Choosing fellow board members


Some NPOs survive despite, not because of, their Boards of Management! Now before any Board member reading this takes umbrage, remember… of course I’m not talking about you the reader! Nor am I talking about the majority of Boards of Management. Obviously I am talking about others – the few that need correcting! But there is sometimes a tendency amongst non-profit Boards to choose the wrong people as Board members.

Some flaws in the process being as follows:

  • Some Chairpersons, and other Board members, tend to choose friends and business colleagues who they think will be of the same mind (or whom they can control), to join them on Boards of Management. They tend to prefer people who are unlikely to rock the boat!
  • Sometimes Boards comprise of members involved in very restricted fields of expertise. If for example your organisation is experiencing financial difficulties, having three vets; a transport expert, and a politician on your Board, is hardly helpful! (Especially the latter!) Where are the accountants and financial experts?
  • Always avoid Board members who are on so many Boards that they seem to collect their positions as badges of merit.
  • And just because John is a good golfing or bowling partner, doesn’t mean that he would be the correct choice to sit next to at Board meetings!

So here are some guidelines in respect of recruiting new Board members:

  • Previous ‘captains and kings of industry,’ who think that they are still important, and that they have all the answers, should be avoided like the plague.
  • Ensuring that new Board members understand what they are getting into; that they are willing to learn prior to making game changing suggestions, is vital. Retirement industries, especially non-profits, can be far more complex and difficult to manage, than the commercial companies, which they have been accustomed to.
  • Make sure that Board members show respect to the CEO, as while it is true that they have the final saying in approving matters of principle, and the making of important decisions… it is important that they realise that their role is one of mentoring and approving – not managing!
  • Be willing accept fellow Board members who may rock the boat! Boards need new ideas; they need people who think out of the box! At least then the Board fossilization process may stop; there may be a little positive action, rather than just talk, talk, talk!
  • When necessary co-opt people with specific skills on to the Board (Perhaps only for a limited time, while the problem persists).
  • Be willing to pay for the transport costs of some Board members. In South Africa we live in a multicultural society, where not all can afford Bentleys or taxis.
  • Ensure that your Board is gender-fair. 80% of residents in most retirement villages eventually end up being women – why then should men be the sole decision makers in how their lives will be run.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest. If for example your village is in need of a total security revamp – don’t invite Gupta (who happens to own a company which is the most efficient and affordable security services supplier), to join your Board.
  • Ensure that prospective Board members understand that their duties will extend far beyond merely attending meetings once a month; that their commitment should for example broaden to include volunteer tasks, such as assisting with fund-raising projects, and being there for the CEO and senior staff team – when needed.

Oh! Do I hear you say but Board members are elected according to a fair procedure, as laid down in the organisation’s constitution? In your dreams!

For a number of years now   I have attended the Nodding Hills Village AGM. And on each occasion, the process is identical. The current Chairperson announces that the following Board members, having served their 5-year term, now have to step down.  However, he then goes on to add that he is pleased to announce that they have agreed to serve again for a further term. He then asks if there are any objections, and then after waiting for a full 2.7 seconds, he happily confirms that they have been re-elected!

This con is abetted by the fact that sometimes AGMs of retirement villages are attended by very few people, whose average age is normally 89.3 years, and who are far more interested in parking their walkers, adjusting their hear-aids, and ensuring that they have their dental plates (in anticipation of the snacks and tea after the AGM), than in actually contributing to the nomination and election process.

Other means of insuring that the public have little say in AGMs,  are by defining voting membership restrictions, in such a manner as to limit the number of naysayers, and of instructing the newspaper advertising the AGM, to ensure that it is published in print-type font Parchment 8. (Ideally when the ink in the printer is running low!)

Whist I concede that this tongue-in-cheek diatribe on Boards of management is perhaps a little extreme, it emphasises my view that little is as important as having the correct Board of management.

Henry Spencer