Must Your Board of Directors Have Affluence and Influence?

Last month, I served on a panel with Terrie Temkin and Brian Foss, moderated by Ellen Bristol. We discussed the book we all contributed to named, YOU and Your Nonprofit Board. In the middle of the discussion, Terrie and Brian returned to a running debate they’ve had around this question: Do you need board members with affluence and influence?

Terrie argued no. You don’t need them. They are hard to enlist, and often feel like their presence is enough, so they don’t work hard.

Brian argued yes. You need board members of affluence and influence. He has never seen a nonprofit board be successful without them.

“Round up the usual suspects.” Captain Renault, Casablanca

As Brian reminded us “Whenever you have three or more consultants together you have a dozen opinions.” So, here’s my take on it.

Do you need board members of affluence and influence? Yes and No.

  • While they might be nice to have, you don’t need the usual suspects.
  • You do want people with affluence and influence.
  • Therefore, look beyond the usual suspects to find people of affluence and influence.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow writes about our two ways of thinking. If you are active in your community, when it comes to board members, your easy fast thinking will identify a half dozen or more people who make ideal board candidates. These are the usual suspects. Most of them are on other boards.

Good boards require work and slow thinking. There are lots of people in any community who have affluence and influence who will not come to mind when you think fast. Perhaps they:

  • Work quietly behind the scenes.
  • Quiet the room when they speak. They speak infrequently but with wisdom.
  • Are young and hungry.
  • Are newcomers.
  • Have passion for your cause or your community and will lead if asked but haven’t yet had a place in the community square to use their leadership skills.

Would you have chosen Lincoln to run the country during the Civil War—a man who lost multiple elections? Maybe not, but Lincoln had passion. Seek passion first. Then prefer affluence and influence. By the way, one way to recruit board members is to ask the usual suspects for help identifying people of passion. (Find out how –A chapter in YOU and Your Nonprofit Board discusses this.)

It Doesn’t Have to Be Lonely at the Top

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