My Board: It's Got "Personality!"

Advice abounds surrounding nonprofit board development, including job descriptions, stages of a board’s life, expectations, and so much more.

But what about board personality? What is it? Does your board have it? Should it?

I was having coffee with a seasoned development professional recently and mentioned the notion of a board’s personality. She replied that I was probably talking about its culture. At first I agreed, but 24 hours later, I said to myself, “No, it’s something else.”

I mean personality. And when your board has it, you know it.

Personality is about more than being a board with well-known members. In my experience working with my own nonprofits, and now as an interim consultant and coach, I’m struck by something vital that is often missing on our boards. While they might be transparent and inclusive, possess valuable networks and adherence to the mission, they lack the secret sauce that translates and transforms their culture into a community...a vibrant community. They get the job done efficiently, but they don’t necessarily attract the best and brightest leadership to buy into the program.

What does a board with a positive personality look like? It’s not superficial and it’s tricky to measure. I propose it means key leadership—both on the board and at the executive staff level—strive for genuine and sometimes difficult conversations around the organization’s issues. It includes making board and committee meetings safe places for disagreement and active listening, and compelling learning environments. A board with personality may include well-known community players, but they remember to drop their egos at the door. The members of such a board are unified in their passion to protect the mission and to energize one another. This respectful environment brings out the unique gifts of both the bolder members as well the more reserved. When such a process occurs, all members sense it, frequently lingering after a meeting is officially over because they’ve come to know, like, and trust each other. They feel like a real team and they want to continue to be players together.

I believe it is our responsibility as executive staff and board leadership to create a special sense of our board’s unique community that promotes giving much more than they expect. Yes, it’s hard work—it takes time and planning—but the results are worth it. Boards with this special and positive personality can overcome almost any challenge, safeguard the organization during crisis, and exceed goals in fulfillment of their mission. Together with staff, they can compete successfully among all the charitable players.

This is the best board I’ve ever been on” is what we want to hear! Have you experienced this “magical” board community? Would you like to? It is possible.