Publications & Products
Volume 1, Issue 7

Engineering a Great Board

Any good volunteer board needs a tune up every now and then—and community college foundation boards are no exception. A board's makeup should change as the institution's goals change, experts say, whether this means attracting members willing to take on a more proactive role in fundraising or bringing on higher-level executives who maintain invaluable professional networks.

Adrienne Garcia, executive director of the Hillsborough Community College Foundation in Tampa, Fla., knows from experience the challenges involved in changing the makeup of a board—and has learned many lessons from this sometimes contentious process. She will host a CASE webinar on the topic Feb. 14, 2012.

"I believe in term limits," she says. "They absolutely help boards refresh themselves regularly."

Still, Garcia notes that foundation directors—or others charged with overseeing the activity of boards—need to learn how to identify and recruit new talent to ensure that such built-in turnover proves productive.

"Some boards have a few very active members who all might be rowing their boats in different directions," she says. "The idea is to have more of those active members on the board all rowing their boats in the same direction. You need diversity on a board. You need people who can write the checks, but also people who can give you vision. You have to realize that you're not just trying to get a board that'll give you a good year this year, but a better future at the college for many years. You need to think, ‘how are we going to get people involved with the philanthropic efforts at the college?'"

Daniel Wolf, managing director of Dewar Sloan, a strategic leadership and management consulting firm, agrees that a board should be diverse and that all members must be able to work together. He suggests the following criteria to assess candidates:

  • Technical knowledge and competence. Do they know how funds are raised and how funds are used at the college? Do they know the overall economics and legality of fundraising?
  • Managerial skills. Do they know how to manage their time, resources, priorities and habits? Wolf notes that boards need "people who are well-organized" and can "get things done."
  • Conceptual skills. Wolf says boards need "people who can think in dimensions of opportunity and who can find new ways to do things." He adds that they also need committed individuals who latch onto ideas until they see them come to fruition.
  • Stakeholder sense of perspective. Can they see the board and the institution as an outsider sees them? Wolf notes that this perspective is essential when analyzing board goals and performance.
  • Emotional intelligence and temperament. In other words, do they know what they are there to do, and do they have the people skills to do it?

Wolf adds that a candidate's giving capability is also another important criterion that spans all of these others. He suggests recruiting individuals who have a very personal connection or high level of excitement about at least one specific program or area of the institution. This, he says, will help ensure that they are engaged in the advocacy role that the board plays at the institution.

When bringing on new board members, Garcia encourages foundation directors to be frank about the commitment level involved and be specific about the expectations of the position. Wolf agrees, noting that many boards fail to achieve success because this hasn't been explained clearly enough.

Paul Heaton, director of the CASE Center for Community College Advancement, observes that roles and expectations often are understated to get a "yes" from someone to join a board.

"The last message you want to send to a prospective board member is ‘This is easy and won't involve much work," Heaton says. "If you want high-performing board members, let prospective members know that expectation before they say yes."

Heaton also notes that any recruitment should underscore the many rewards that come from this important service to the community.

When evaluating existing board members, Garcia suggests foundation directors ask them if they felt as if they did enough to accomplish their goals and if the support staff—including the director—could do more to support their efforts. Such an honest discussion, she believes, helps both parties stay productive and engaged.

"Eventually, when members leave the board, you should keep them in the family, so to speak," she says. "You want to stay on good terms with them, even if they weren't the most successful. You shouldn't let anyone go away mad. We keep inviting former board members to events. Some even come back for later terms on the board or prove helpful in other ways."

Garcia notes that there are various signs to indicate that it's time for a foundation director to update his or her board. For example, she says that when a board has too many failures in a limited time period that this could be a sign that new blood is needed. Also, she notes that when board members express that they're no longer having fun or appear bored in their positions, it may be time to consider making changes.

This article is from the January 2012 issue of the Community College Advancement News.


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Fundraising Strategies for Community Colleges: The Definitive Guide for Emerging Institutions

Preorder now! Available April 2012.

This comprehensive guide, written expressly for community colleges, offers practical advice and concrete steps on how to build a strong advancement program that encompasses annual funds, grants, major gifts and planned giving.

Lessons Learned: Shifting Your Volunteer Board Composition
Feb 14, 2012
2-3 p.m. EST

Every volunteer board needs new blood. What happens when you change-by design or by fiat-the type of members you engage for your community college foundation board? Hear from a foundation executive director about the dynamics and challenges involved in changing the makeup of your board-and the lessons she learned from this undertaking.

Turning Community College Alumni into Donors
March 13, 2012
2-3 p.m. EST

More community colleges are finding that investing in alumni relations is literally paying off. Hear from Community College of Baltimore County officials who have been systematic about their communications, mailings and data cleanup, with big results: an 89 percent increase in alumni giving in one year.

More Community College Resources
See the full list of CASE resources for community colleges.