Building a Board From Scratch
Good Shepherd Services was founded by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in 1857, and was formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization in 1947. In the early 1980's, the religious decided to shift to a lay board. To focus her efforts to build the board, the Executive Director, Sr. Paulette LoMonaco, went to a United Way training on board development. She combined what she learned from the training with her experience of serving on other boards of directors.
Building a Lay Board
Building the board often starts with one person with contacts. In the case of Good Shepherd, that person was Joe McLaughlin, a partner in a law firm, who was one of the first of the professionals she brought on when she was recreating the board. One of Joe's law partners introduced him to Sr. Paulette. Good Shepherd appealed to Joe because of his own background and interests, and because he thought it was an opportunity for him to make a real contribution. Joe became the new board chair and he and Sr. Paulette formed a very close working relationship.
Joe saw an important part of his role as chair being to bring in "free labor" to supplement agency resources. The board chair and executive director knew that it was not enough to bring on people of good will. Part of the motivation for building a new board was to help the agency become financially self-sufficient. Because Good Shepherd depends on reimbursements from government contracts to fund their residential care programs, they often experienced cash flow problems, which they had been addressing by borrowing from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Therefore, the agency wanted to recruit individuals who would make Good Shepherd their top funding priority. Every board member was expected to make a financial gift.
The board started by making a wish list of all the types of people theyy would love to have as members. In addition to the capacity to make a sizable contribution, their considerations included:
- representation from all of the sectors that make up the New York economy,
- skills and expertise that the agency did not have internally,
- life experience, and
- fit with the three W's: Work, Wealth and Wisdom. To this list they added "Wit," meaning how the person would fit with the organization's culture.
Joe then introduced some of his clients to Sr. Paulette and Good Shepherd, and the executive director met others on her own. "I brought on friends and people I knew well, some of whom Sr. Paulette knew as well. She and I talked daily Who would be right? Would he or she be good? What would it take to get a particular project done?"
People agreed to join the board for a number of reasons. First of all, they believed in the program, which Joe thought was the best in the city. According to Joe, Good Shepherd "showcased what they did well, and could demonstrate outcomes." Sr. Paulette's reputation, and the reputation of Good Shepherd as a well managed organization, were both attractive qualities to potential board members. Sr. Paulette added that people were drawn to Good Shepherd because they saw an opportunity to make a real contribution. They also knew and trusted Joe.
It took Joe and Sr. Paulette almost seven years to rebuild the board. Sometimes Sr. Paulette would invite people onto the board, in other cases Joe would. Once they had a good core of board members, they began to look further for new industries. The board developed some stability and continued to grow and evolve. Since they were looking for people from different sectors, each of the candidates they recruited drew were from different professional and social circles. This greatly contributed to the breath of skills, perspectives and overall capacity of the board.
Recruitment and Board Engagement Today
Since those early days Good Shepherd has achieved significant growth in programs and services. Still, Sr. Paulette describes board recruitment and development as an ongoing challenge. The organization's growth and increased oversight requirements have placed greater demand on board leadership, requiring the board to periodically reconsider its structures and composition. In response, the board has formed new committees, including an audit committee, one for development, and, more recently, a risk management/quality assurance committee.
As the financial demands on the organization have grown, private fundraising has become a more important component of the funding mix. In response, the board has needed to add individuals with a greater capacity to give or get. However, they have retained board members who have other contributions to make, such as a specific expertise or relationships in the community. Current board members have been helpful in identifying board members who can support a greater level of individual giving, and the Executive Director has also found candidates through her involvement in many community and funding organizations.
When asked how these disparate groups mix, Sr. Paulette described the importance of a healthy board culture, in which people come together to support common goals and approach the work with humor, and humility. Members who are in senior corporate positions understand that part of their role is to mentor and grow more junior leaders. However, it is still a challenge to balance the need to bring in individuals with access to financial resources with the need to replenish the board with younger leadership. Both groups need to feel comfortable, as do those members who are from other sectors and communities.
Similarly, the board has to balance long term involvement of members who have a strong institutional history with the need to offer opportunities for newer members to lead. One way that the organization has accomplished this is to reconsider the idea of term limits, allowing board members to serve three three-year terms. As always with term limits, something is gained, and something is lost. At times too much institutional history is lost, and more significant board education is needed. When term limits have not been enforced, committee chairs can get locked in, leaving little opportunity for newer members.
Another strategy for the continued involvement of long-term board members has been to develop a President's Council, comprised primarily of former board members. While President's Council members no longer have governance responsibilities, the position is not purely honorary. They are still expected to be available on a one-on-one basis to the Executive Director, making their expertise and contacts available to the organization. They are also asked to make an annual financial contribution in keeping with their means. And, they continue to keep Good Shepherd on their radar, looking for opportunities that might benefit the organization and its constituents. To maintain the engagement of this group they are invited to the December board meeting, and are included in the annual board social event that usually follows that meeting.
To manage the growing needs of the board Good Shepherd has created a Governance Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the board recruitment and evaluation processes. The committee is responsible for following up with individuals suggested by various board members and the Executive Director. Potential board members are asked to become familiar with the board manual and to visit Good Shepherd programs with the Executive Director. Particular attention is paid to whether or not the individual seems to share the values and beliefs of the organization, and of the board. Having a board whose members can work together successfully is considered of tantamount importance at Good Shepherd.
The Governance Committee also leads a bi-annual board evaluation, using BoardSource's Board Self-Assessment tool. When there are problems with an individual board member's performance the board member who recommended that individual may be asked to speak with the newer board member to try to resolve the situation. The Board Chair or the Executive Director might also play this role. Problems are confronted directly to minimize the impact on the board as a whole.
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