Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Ideal Board Member

Both the boards of directors that I currently serve on, a private foundation that revolves around a private collection of indigenous art and that of a theater and performance company are looking for new board members.  Of course, the question comes up all the time, who is our ideal board member.

Unfortunately, that person does not exist but every company with a board of directors continues the search with the desire to come as close as possible.  I have been on the boards and even an officer of various art dealer associations both domestic and international.  I have been on the boards of a couple of companies that made films about the arts and they all had the same question. 

Of course, all have slightly different goals but they all want energetic young people-- which I was when I was on my first board at 27 and am not now at 72!  The vast majority of these were looking to the dues from the entire membership and not board donations to keep them going.  The other day I had a discussion with a woman who had been on many boards of directors who said she was never on a board that did not ask their members to contribute.

Interestingly enough and not surprisingly the ones that did not ask for funds always ran into financial difficulties, but the ones that did also needed additional financial backing.  There has always been this strange attitude that the arts should have nothing to do with “filthy lucre”.  As the song from Cabaret goes, “Money makes the world go around”.   We have to remind ourselves that the shows need to be paid for.   So the ideal board member is one with funds to spare.

Though it changes from time to time we look for demographic balance on the board.  Still being in the age of feminism which started half a century ago we want to make sure there are enough women,. Though you might say that the fight for equality for the black population started 150 years ago in certain parts of the country we should have more blacks on our boards.  Where I live now in Santa Fe, New Mexico the same challenge exists but here it is to include Hispanics and Native Americans.  

The look of a board has not changed that much.  Here is and image of a meeting of a board of directors of the Leipzig-Dresden Railway Company Board of 1852.

A board of directors is chosen to establish corporate management related policies and to make decisions on major company issues. Most of the boards I have served on were not for profits.  They act similarly and the board also oversees the financial operations and maintains the legal and ethical standing of the organization and its staff.  I would further add that the board has to make decisions on the direction of the entity and offer expertise in various fields.  Therefore, one wants individuals who are specialists in certain areas such as law, finance and in many other areas as well.

There can be specific goals for a board.  It is not difficult to understand why the Museum of Modern Art’s board is formed mostly by major art collectors who are de facto wealthy and may some day donate their collections or parts thereof to the museum.

I often look around the room during a board meeting and say to myself why is there no one in the room who has more expertise in this field or that, or lament that the genius on the board is dead broke!

I am sure that I have missed many reasons for selecting or electing a board member but you can see the impossibility of finding an individual who can fit all the hoped for requirements.
This being the case, we need to seek out the best individual available at the time and place, then work on a wish list for the next member.

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