Different board members have different things to give. The executive director and board chair who know who can give what can run a better board.
One kind of board member can tackle and complete tasks. I won’t refer to them as “worker bees” as many people use that phrase in a condescending way. But these board members know how to get stuff done. They are organized, have good project planning and management skills, and have the willingness to roll up their sleeves and pitch in. They execute and they can be trusted to come through.
Another kind of board member has a schedule that doesn’t allow for much task work. They may travel frequently, work long hours or have an ill parent to mind. For whatever reason, they aren’t going to pitch in for implementation tasks, but they can offer good advice, help the executive director puzzle through tricky decisions or provide valuable connections to people who can help the organization. They won’t help bartend the annual casino night, but they will pick up the phone and make an introduction to a prospective donor.
A third kind of board member may neither actively engage nor lend counsel, but will write a big check. Sometimes this board member will also provide connections to prospective donors, but many times will not. They will, though, continue to support the organization through annual gifts, capital contributions and gift planning.
Many boards require that each board member attend all the board meetings and serve on at least one committee. Most boards feel disappointed when board members decide to miss a board meeting that was scheduled nine months in advance with everyone’s calendar out and everyone’s assent to that date. Maybe the absent board members are Type II (advice) or Type III (major donor) board members.
If you have major donor board members who aren’t contributing in any other way, consider whether you really need them on the board to continue gaining their contributions. If they like the organization, trust its leadership and appreciate what the group is doing with their money, why do they need to take up a space on the board? Why wouldn’t they continue to give, and perhaps even appreciate not having to feel guilty about their lack of board contribution?
Aligning what you ask board members for with what your board members are willing and able to give sounds like a no-brainer. Many times the staff and other board members get frustrated when some board members won’t show up for any events, hardly even make board meetings, flake out on committee assignments and won’t even return email messages. Before getting too irritated with these board members, perhaps they should take a step back, let out a few deep breaths, and ask themselves whether they are asking their colleagues for what they can and will give.