My focus in that article was on how the webinar is a good resource for thinking about how you recruit for and structure your board. But there are a lot of philosophical issues raised in the webinar that I wanted to call attention to as well.
Presenter Anasuya Sengupta noted that when the responsibilities of board members are listed, duty of care, loyalty, fiduciary stewardship and compliance are standards across the entire non-profit sphere. She opines that this list sounds as if a lawyer wrote it up. This made me realize that while the purpose of a non-profit is generally service to a cause or community, that isn’t among the standard criteria for responsible governance.
Sengupta also suggests legality can be a low bar for ethics and risk aversion and compliance can be a very low bar for decision making. She notes that risk aversion and compliance are largely reactive orientations rather than the proactive approach non-profits should be taking. She says that these things, along with the legalistic list of responsibilities should be considered basic practices rather than best practices.
It occurred to me that this could be one of the results of the “run it like a business” philosophy we have seen espoused lately. Reduce costs, increase revenue, avoid risk, do the least possible for the most gain (aka low overhead ratio) all seem to be symptoms of this idea.
When your purpose is to deal with people on a social level rather than as consumers of goods and services, things are less apt to be neat and tidy. The whole endeavor of trying to involve under served audiences requires interactions with people who don’t know all the rules of behavior and possess basic knowledge of the usual audiences. Almost by definition, someone is likely to be discomforted in the process. Additional time and effort may be required to accommodate and educate them, including providing your services in a non-standard time, place and format entirely customized to the needs of the groups with which you are working.
Another presenter, Ruth McCambridge, said that even if you perfectly followed all rules for diversifying your board, your efforts might fail. This is because the underlying premises are flawed, most of which seem to be based on the idea that filling certain slots automatically solves that problem.
I go into a bit more detail in the ArtsHacker post, but briefly the problems are:
-recruiting members of under served communities: the person you recruit may be a member of that community, but not representative of that community.
-recruiting people who can raise/give money: In Human Service Non-profits, studies show recruiting board members for ability to raise money actually negatively impacted their budgets. In the arts, it does help build the finances.
-recruiting to fill a skill slot (lawyer, accountant): the person assumes they were recruited to provide that skill, doesn’t focus on general governance, working cohesively with entire board
The other bad assumption McCambridge mentions is that fund raising boards and working boards are mutually exclusive and you can only have one or the other.
Put in this context, I got the sneaking suspicion that the concept of a board of directors emerged during the Industrial Revolution because there seems to be an underlying utilitarian philosophy. So much of board composition seems to be based on the idea that if you find the optimal mix of skills or insights to match your institutional mission, you will realize success. If you are not successful, you must have the wrong mix.
Despite optimism about Millennials being more meaning and purpose driven than their predecessors, I don’t see this changing without focused, intentional effort. The prevalence of video gaming and the attendant Min-Maxing approach to gameplay will only serve to perpetuate this as an ideal.