I've often joked that if I chose to, I could build my entire coaching and consulting business around helping Executive Directors in their efforts to have an outstanding board. And while much of my work is focused on young and growing nonprofits, the opportunity to do this work is much broader, spanning newer organizations to older and established national charities. Suffice to say, I rarely hear from a senior leader of a nonprofit organization anything along the lines of "Nope - no need to improve our board! We've got it all going on - 100% of our board members are hitting it out of the park on the three T's. They contribute their Time, their Talent and their Treasure. All good here." That's not to say that I don't run into or hear of boards that are more functional than others. For example, they might have a decent amount of all of the aforementioned T's. Or, they might have board members who lean into one or two of these components but have an obvious gap in others. But it's super rare - in my experience - to see a board that's hitting it on all three cylinders.
Why do I bring this up? Because I was recently discussing a board and its vast improvement in all three key areas with an Executive Director I've had the pleasure of knowing for a little over a year now. When we started our talks, one of the biggest challenges he faced was that while his board had lots of talent and minimal struggle providing financial support, they struggled with contributing much more than the bare minimum of time. And more importantly when they "showed up" that was pretty much it. They showed up, allowed the ED to fully run the show, and simply check the boxes. During our conversations, my coaching client and I discussed a number of strategies - one-on-one meetings, individual members goals, committee assignments and several others.
Here's the little twist in this true story. As I noted above, this ED and I have known each other for about a year. However, in terms of coaching, we worked together for about two months then, due to a variety of circumstances, there was a pause. We picked up again in November and it was just recently that we had the discussion about the significant strides his board has made in engagement and taking more ownership in outcomes.
How did the improvement come about? That's where I've got some good news and let's call it less good news. The less good news is that several of the strategies worked better than others but there was no one that jumped out as "the one." I'm not here to reveal the magic formula for board development. I'm still working on it but haven't uncovered it yet. The good news, in my opinion anyway, is that sticking with this plan of being patient, testing out things and reflecting on their success has paid off in a big and very noticeable way. But it's after a year of being patient and knowing that great boards - and true exemplary leadership - aren't built in a day, a week, a month or even a year. They are built steadily. Over time. On an ongoing basis.
Let's call this new formula for board success Time, Treasure, Talent and Time To Build.