Tips to Becoming an Exceptional Board Member with Jeb Banner
As the CEO and a Founder of Boardable, Jeb Banner is passionate about community nonprofits, entrepreneurship, and more. He also founded SmallBox, a creative agency for mission-driven organizations, and is co-founder of The Speak Easy and founder of Musical Family Tree, both 501(c)(3) nonprofits.
Read the Interview Transcript
[Issue with video file connection, so recorded content begins here]
Jeb Banner: More and more. I was running another business at the time, which worked mostly with nonprofits called SmallBox, a creative agency here in Indy. As we raised some money and as the business turned off, I shifted from SmallBox to Boardable in the course of 2017. I went full-time in 2018. My wife actually took over the agency and runs that now. We are all in the same building in Indianapolis here in the old library. We still get to work together, but different floors.
Hugh Ballou: Awesome. Jeb, we write a plan, set some goals, and we give it to the board. It’s all a done deal. The board embraces it. What is your experience with boards?
Jeb: Boards are busy. Boards are over-committed. Board members are often serving on multiple boards. They are spread thin. This is one of the challenges we want to solve in the product, eventually building out a talent marketplace on Boardable’s platform to give boards access to a wider pool of talent. This is a real challenge. These great people who serve on boards often get called to serve on other boards. When they show up, they’re often reading the material at the Stop sign, on the drive in, in the parking lot, during the meeting. They’re not always prepared. Board members, as much as they really want to give everything they can, they don’t really have the time to do it because they’re spread so thin. Nonprofits struggle to hold board members accountable because they don’t feel comfortable asking them to follow through in a way they should sometimes, or really do the role they need to do in the organization because they’re volunteers. It’s hard to make demands of a volunteer. A lot of what we’re trying to do is build into the product ways for those board members to be nudged toward the right behaviors.
Hugh: Well, this is fascinating. Russell, you worked with a nonprofit Indian reservation for many years. Are you hearing some things jump out about boards that you’d like to probe?
Russell Dennis: Communication is probably the biggest challenge that board leaders and boards have. We had the challenge up there where I was working of geography working against us. Our board members were scattered over an area that was about the size of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined in a county called Aroostook. Our council members, the government body, or board if you will, would travel from long distances, 60-65 miles some of them, to attend the meeting. We had bi-weekly meetings. In northern Maine, weather is an issue. Being able to communicate is pretty tough. There is more technology available for that. There is challenges in conducting board meetings and staying in touch. Yes, I agree that getting things done can be tough. It can be pretty tricky.
A lot of times, when folks like you, entrepreneurs and consultants, people have problems that drive them bananas, that keep them awake. What were some of the key things that were driving you crazy that you thought you had to fix, that motivated you and inspired you to develop a platform to help board members operate an organization more smoothly?
Jeb: I think the #1 thing is communication. What you just said there is true. Keeping up that communication between meetings. Doing it in a way that meets people where they are. Everybody has their own style. Some people like to text, some like to email, and some like phone calls. You have people at different technology levels, too. The boards I was running had less of that challenge. Boards I sit on now, that is one of the challenges they have.
The #1 headache I experienced as a board chair was centralizing everything. So much was going into my inbox, like the bylaws would be attached to an email from two years ago. Where was the bylaws? There is no central repository. If somebody rolled off the board, their inbox rolled off the board with them. All that communication, all those documents they may have been working on just vanishes. That is a real problem with boards. There is no continuity if you are using those kinds of tools. They are not built for that. They are built for immediacy. That centralization was pain point #1.
After that comes the communication pain point. Having a place where everything flows. If you start a discussion in Boardable, it goes into their inbox and phones. It responds, and it goes back in. It’s always back in the system. That is a real headache.
The third thing we thought about was it has to be super easy to use. It has to be simple. If you give a board member a tool they can’t use, if they can’t log in, if they can’t make sense of it, it’s worthless. It can do all the things in the world, but it’s worthless. As we have gotten into it further, we think about it a lot more around engagement. We have different dimensions of engagement we think about as well. We can chat about that later.
The initial problems were centralization, communication, and simplification.
Hugh: Boardable.com. That’s quite an impressive site. We have a couple folks I want to shout out to. Don Ward, who is in Orlando, Florida. He is the president of the CEO clubs in central Florida. Has groups that talk about leadership, business development, and nonprofits. He said, “Board members need to be trained. They think their input and power is far more than it was ever supposed to be. What if…” How would you respond to that, Jeb?
Jeb: I think setting and managing expectations with a board member, and that is part of that training, around what their role and responsibility is on the board. Different boards have different levels of responsibility to the organization. Some boards really do have a high level. Fiduciary responsibility in most cases. There are real consequences to their decisions. They often don’t understand that. They don’t understand they are playing with fire, if you will. This is not a practice. Other boards are more advisory, where they are just giving input. Defining that role, and saying to the board member, “Hey, this is what we expect of you. This is your lane.” And being clear about that up front through board training, onboarding, mentorship—giving them a mentor to work with on the board—is a missed opportunity. Based on our research, two thirds to three fourths fail to do any onboarding or training. Then you have a board member that doesn’t know what is expected of them, so they run wild. I agree with that comment. I think board members, not maliciously, they don’t just know their role, so they do what they think they need to do.
Hugh: You’re so right. Without clear expectations, leaders are actually setting up conflict. People don’t know where to- They can’t color inside the lines because they don’t know where the lines are.
Jeb: That’s right. I think a lot of times, leaders are timid about this. They are uncomfortable having that conversation. They are uncomfortable telling that powerful donor that has joined the board, “Don’t do this.” They have trouble giving them those lines because they are writing checks in some cases, or they are influential. They struggle with that accountability and that clarity.
Hugh: That’s a big deal. I hear leaders say, “I can’t correct them because they are volunteers. They’re giving their time.” I served megachurches for 40 years. I had plenty of opportunities to fire volunteers. Sometimes they were happy about it. Most of the time, they were happy about it because they knew it wasn’t a good fit. Actually, I got to a place where we eliminated the word “volunteer” because a lot of the language, like “nonprofit,” which is a lie, and “volunteer,” which is dumbing down, some of the language we use actually contributes to the lower functioning. In the church, we created members of the ministry. It was a leadership position. In my symphony, I am the president of the symphony here, we are on the road to creating a servant leader model, where people have a track, and they lead in the model here. There is a whole lot of things that we set up that we unintentionally set up problems. Talk about this- There is a fear of conflict. People want to step away from it, which fosters it. Making course corrections doesn’t mean you have to tell people they are wrong. Talk about that interaction. That is a big deal, I think.
Jeb: I often think- Are you familiar with Patrick Lencioni, the author?
Hugh: Five Dysfunctions…
Jeb: Five Dysfunctions of a Team. You look at that pyramid. You have to have that trust in order to have conflict, which gets into commitment, which leads to accountability to reinforce it, which outputs results. To have that alignment there, you have to start with trust. Making sure that board member is part- Trust is being part of a team, feeling like they are safe to step up. They can talk about their concerns. They feel they are in a safe space to speak their mind. It’s very hard to engender that without some of that teambuilding work that you need to do with boards. There is some socialization to that. I use a design thinking framework when I work with boards to do small group activities to push conversations and connections so that people feel like they know each other and there is a foundation of trust so they can start to move in that conflict. Conflict is critical. You need to have conflict on a board. Healthy, productive conflict. Not political drama-based conflict, but real conflict where people really care about things.
Hugh: it’s a sign of energy, isn’t it?
Jeb: It’s a sign of life. If you don’t have it, you have a problem. If everybody is sitting there going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” you have a dysfunctional board. It may not look like it, but it’s dysfunctional.
Hugh: The only place I have seen where there is no conflict is a cemetery.
Jeb: There is conflict in the earth between the body and the ground, I’ll tell you that much.
Hugh: Oh man. Another watching on Facebook is Don Green, who is in Wise, Virginia. Don Green is the executive director of a nonprofit called The Napoleon Hill Foundation. Don is sending his thank you because this is useful information.
Russell, do you want to weigh in on this leader making course corrections? I think this is a bigger topic than most people realize.
Russell: Running a nonprofit or an organization is just like flying a plane. When you get into a plane, your pilot takes off, and they are flying along. They are off course the vast majority of the time. They spend the whole time course-correcting. You know where you’re leaving from, and you know where you’re going, but you make a lot of adjustments along the way. Running an organization is a lot like that. That is the thing.
I had somebody say to me one time. I was attending a church many years ago back home. These guys are all nice. One of the deacons said, “If you like everybody you’ve met here, you haven’t been to enough services.” There is going to be that conflict from time to time. It’s important to be able to come back together at the end of that day and agree on the common goal. How you get there could be an interesting dynamic. If everybody was the same, people would get bored and walk away. That dynamic tension is what makes the work exciting.
Hugh: You don’t want a bunch of yes people, do you?
Russell: No, it would be very dull.
Hugh: Also, we create a culture that is the opposite, where people are afraid of standing out and saying their mind. The real meeting happens in the parking lot. “So yeah, I knew what was going on in there, but here is what I think.” Triangling going on.
Jeb, let’s forecast. What does a really great board look like? We were talking about the exceptional board member. Either the board as a whole or a board member. Tell us what that looks like from your perspective.
Jeb: I think there are a few dimensions to this. You have the composition of the board itself. The board should be somewhat reflective, not entirely one-to-one of the people it’s serving, but somewhat reflective so there is an empathetic connection to the service being provided. Then I think there should be diversity of age, race, gender. It needs to bring in different perspectives. I don’t have an exact formula for that, but a healthy board has a level of diversity there.
Getting into the roles of the board. You look at that. We need someone who has a legal background, depending on the organization, a finance background, a marketing background. It’s important to have that composition as well.
Then you look at the actual activity of the board. That’s where I think about engagement. I think about seven dimensions of engagement.
Preparation for a board meeting. Are they preparing? Are they reading the materials?
Are they showing up to the meetings?
Are they following through on what they said they would do?
Are they volunteering, getting involved in the organization so they feel the impact of the work?
Are they advocating on behalf of the organization?
Are they fundraising? Helping raise money.
Are they donating? Writing the checks.
Looking across those seven dimensions, and then looking at those other areas, I think that then you need leadership. That is the last ingredient. To make sure you have that foundation of safety and trust for conflict, which leads to a healthy dialogue and the ability of that board to really, truly govern the organization.
Russell: Our friend Dr. David Gruder develops a lot of tools around that for people to talk to one another. There are some other resources out there like Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone and Bruce Patten. It’s important to be able to do that. What it boils down to is being genuine and authentic. You’re communicating in respectable ways. What are some of the tools you have provided to help board members do that in organizations you work with?
Jeb: I’m familiar with Crucial Conversations. Is that a similar framework to what you’re talking about?
Russell: Yes, they are different.
Jeb: Crucial Conversations is wonderful training. I have done that a couple times. I think that’s great training. It’s a little extensive for a full board to go through. In my experience, I have a background in design thinking. It’s a framework that people-centered. It’s empathy-based. It’s all about starting with the problem. Trying to create a consensus around what the problem is, not what the solution is. There is a lot of different exercises that come from that, different ways that you can facilitate whole and small group exercises. You can do research.
There is a whole toolkit that my previous company SmallBox used in our work with nonprofits and boards. For instance, organizational values, which is a part of what the board needs to do. They need to be a part of that values conversation. Mission, vision, those conversations as well. Then you get into strategic planning. There are tools around that from the design thinking background that are helpful for that.
Working with the United Way board here in town, we recently redesigned their entire board governance approach. It started with working in small groups to bring in ideas and socialize ideas with the larger board to then refine those, and take those back to leadership, and put them into a plan. I follow that approach, which is more organic. I do think there is good tools out there. My background and training is more in that design thinking framework, which is more custom to the situation.
Russell: Custom solution is different. Everyone is different. Everyone on the board is different. What are some challenges in making a board run efficiently that you’ve seen across various types of organizations, some of the universal ones?
Jeb: Meetings. Time management. Managing the agenda, managing the conversations, making sure that people are staying on topic. You don’t have people grandstanding. Every board has someone who loves to hear themselves talk. There have been times where it’s been me. I love to hear myself talk. But having the chair or the executive director, it’s best when it’s the chair, be an active facilitator and have some facilitation training, so they learn how to bring in others, make sure everyone has that safe space to be heard. I think that’s critical in a productive board experience. Everything about the board is that meeting. Like you said, the parking lot conversations, that starts to happen a lot when the dysfunction of that meeting deepens. All of that stuff ripples out. You have phone calls and emails. It cascades when that meeting is ineffective.
Hugh: I’m a conductor. Especially the better they are, every ensemble rehearses for every performance. We don’t rehearse. Some of the stuff you’re talking about is how we get better at what we do. In a sense, rehearsals, I’d like to share with you sometime later. Meetings are the #1 killer of teams. I have a whole piece that says the agenda is the killer of productivity. Agendas don’t use agendas for rehearsals; we use deliverables. We can accomplish. Goals for the session. We focus on outcomes. That is a reframing. I see everything as a rehearsal. I’m sorry.
Jeb: Sure, I can relate to that.
Hugh: There are so many things you’ve hit on that are big-deal things that we have to be selective here. I want to go back to this board governance. Russell, he threw a zinger in there that had fire in the name. Did you hear that? About governance and board members.
Jeb: Playing with fire.
Russell: Playing with fire, yeah.
Hugh: Expand on that a little bit. Not having ONC insurance, DNC insurance, Arizona missions not having-
Russell: Directors and offices liability insurance policies. It’s critical to protect yourself and to keep the structures separate. Compliance is a big deal when it comes to running these organizations. There is a lot of documentation that is required. Have you found that boards warm up to the challenge of keeping all of that in order?
Jeb: Absolutely. I just recently joined a board. A week later, the board resigned, not because I joined the board, but because of issues in the organization. I was the last board member standing. This was an experience. Part of it was because the insurance had not been taken care of. There were other issues and lapse that were not being brought to the board’s attention. It was a two-way street. The leadership in the organization wasn’t doing its job, but neither was the board. The board needs to push to get clarity on those things. Part of why that happened is they did push. It was a bit of a mess.
I found myself moving into a chair role when I expected to be a board member, and having to help the organization, and still now, get back up on its feet. It’s been a crash course in a lot of the things we’re talking about. When I’m talking about playing with fire, I am speaking from experience. That’s fire.
You’re talking about vehicle insurance and transporting kids. You have to think about that stuff. The board is on the hook. The buck stops with the board. The board is the boss. I don’t think board members really get that when they sign up. I don’t think they really get that. I think they would take their jobs more seriously if they understood the consequences of not doing their jobs. I think that’s a real failure in leadership because they’re too timid about that conversation.
Russell: That baptism by fire when I worked with the Micmac nation is the same baptism by fire you’re talking about. In terms of documentation, there are so many things that have to be kept in one place. Does your platform help with that? Does it help to deal with governing documents and creating a space where people can collaborate and have these conversations? That is another common problem. I have my favorite tools I use to work with. I have different clients who like different tools, some of which I’m not crazy about. It’s about getting things done, so I have learned to use a number of different things. That’s not always conducive to good communication and keeping things working. Talk about if you could address the importance of organizing all of your compliance documents and processes.
Jeb: That is what Boardable does. Thanks for the pitch there. The problem that we see with a lot of boards is that nothing is one place. When a new board member rolls on, they’re forwarding them emails. The mess grows and expands. Having all documents, everything that you’re doing in one place so that no matter what, you’ve got it right here on the app. You have your directory, your documents. You can call someone from here. You have your groups, agendas, minutes, and voting, everything you need in one place, your notifications, tasks, follow-up items. And you integrate with all those other tools. That is the key here. You have to integrate with Google Docs and Dropbox and Microsoft and calendars and emails because people won’t stop using those tools. They shouldn’t. They work. We have to meet them where they are. A lot of what we focus on is accepting the board experience as it is and coming alongside and bringing value and augmenting what they’re doing.
Hugh: What you don’t know is the guy who comes knocking at the door from the IRS was Russell. He knows about compliance. He wants to see your corporate record book. I find many, if any, executives who understand what the function of the record book is and what should be in there. Is that part of your program as well?
Jeb: Yes, it automatically organizes all those documents into folders. You can lock and control them depending on committee access. All those meetings are automatically archived historically. Who was in attendance? Who wasn’t? You create a report that shows everything that happened. When the IRS does knock at the door, you can show them exactly what you did, how you voted. There is the agenda from that meeting, whatever you need to show them. Fortunately, I have not been audited yet. Hopefully that doesn’t happen here soon. But when Russell does knock at my door, I’m confident at least with the organizations I’m involved with and our customers they’ll be ready.
Hugh: You’re audit-ready.
Jeb: I hope so. I’ll ask my CFO and see if he has the answers.
Hugh: Russell is on a good track here with compliance. I do think most are blind to this. That’s why you got us on here. This sounds like valuable stuff, doesn’t it, Russ?
Russell: It is. As far as having processes, a lot of the problems revolve around people using a different language in addition the tools they think differently. There are certain things that have to be in place. if you can create a way where people have that common understanding and can access stuff. Brendan Burchard talks about creating different products, courses, approaching consulting, and he talks about tools. One of the things he says is if it’s not easy to access, understand, and use, people aren’t going to bother with it. Meetings get complicated. A tool like that, Hugh’s publication on conducting a successful meeting, because it really breaks things down and makes it manageable.
Jeb: Absolutely. If you can’t use the tool, if you can’t log in, if it’s frustrating or confusing, give it 10, 15, maybe 30 seconds, and at that point, you are going back to what you know. This is where things get hard. The organization often caters to the board. They want the board to be taken care of. If the board says this isn’t working for me, whatever it is, they will print out the packet. They will do whatever they need to do to help the board. It’s good and bad. It’s good to take care of your board. The board needs that information. I think it’s also good sometimes that organization needs to push the board more than they do. Too often, they cater and capitulate to the board instead of pushing the board to do best practices in terms of how they want to communicate. They have to give them tools that are easy to use. That is super critical.
Hugh: Jeb, let’s take a case study. Is that okay? A real, live situation. I am the president of the board, the board chair, of the Lynchburg Symphony. We have 24 board members. A third rotate each year. It’s a three-year gig. We have a moving and family situation, so we have 10 new members coming in. A week and a half from now, we are doing our strategy, some people would call it a retreat, but we are going to charge. We are not retreating. It’s a work session, which is different from a board meeting. We have a planning session. I have highly skilled board members that are committee chairs of development, finance, events, and concert programs. We are mapping the future. Our proprietary strategy is called a solution map. Where do you want to be? How are you going to get there? it’s the basic rubric of a strategic plan, but more nonprofit-friendly.
We are doing our planning session. I already met with all the chairs and the new conductor. We are starting a new era with a new conductor. I am succeeding a president who put a lot of systems in place. I am inheriting a sound board and a sound organization, financially and structurally, and we are moving it up. What do you think is the most important things that I should do with incoming board members as we strategize on our work and integrating our work together as we plan for the next five years, and specifically the next year?
Jeb: I think that the onboarding piece is critical. We talked about that earlier. Making sure they know what is expected of them and what their role is. I think that’s important. Assigning them a board mentor is important as well if that is something you can do. That can give them navigational help on a peer level. The third thing is getting them a committee assignment as soon as possible. They need to feel like they have a role on the board. The board meeting, they will feel they are observers for a while. They may ask some questions, but they may not feel they have a really defined role. That onboarding, setting roles and responsibilities, getting them a mentor, getting them on a committee are three initial things you can do that will increase their engagement and make them feel like they are a part of something. That is the initial phase.
Hugh: Russell, I did all of those.
Jeb: Good job!
Russell: Yes, you did. Building a board book. When people go through our leadership symposium, it’s a board book. It lays out a big-picture overview of some things you do. He has other materials he’s built that could actually take leaders through a reflective process. Having what we call a board book has the information that people need. Setting up some training around that and having them go through that, as well as having a mentor, is great. As you are bringing somebody on board, you want to find out what lights their fire. What is something they just can’t wait to get out of bed to do? They are going to have some ownership around that. They will have ideas around that. Good leaders build better leaders. You set the parameters for success, and you turn them loose and let them run with it.
Jeb: That’s a great point. Tapping into what they’re passionate about is critical. That is often a conversation before they join the board, but it can be an ongoing conversation of what is the why. What is the why here? There has to be some alignment between their why and the organization’s why. If that is missing, they’re not going to be engaged. There will be misalignment. That leads to dysfunction, which can be challenging.
Hugh: I like that word, “dysfunction.”
Russell: Especially if they are effective and highly visible, everyone accepts Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny is running after them to get them on their board of directors. That’s fine if they have the bandwidth to do it. What I have seen on occasion is they are not clear with what they want to do or accomplish. They’re not sure what they want from the board members. Typically, they find people who they love and adore, who they’re good friends with, who support them. They don’t always take that inventory of exactly what they need, and can’t always define that commitment. What are some of the things you have seen? How have you been able to address those types of issues?
Jeb: In terms of aligning their commitment?
Russell: And crafting a set of expectations.
Jeb: To be honest, I haven’t done that as much as I should have. The previous time, I was chairing two nonprofits I co-founded, and they were like start-ups. It was a bootstraps situation, where the founders became the board members. We added from there. With the board I am rejuvenating right now, we are in triage mode. We are trying to get up and running.
With the larger board I serve on, the United Way board, they are much more intentional about this experience. It’s been good to watch from that perspective. I have a financial commitment to the board I’m making, which is important. A lot of boards have that. The more mature and functional board, which this one certainly is, they know what they’re doing, they’re intentional. They have a full-time administrator working with the board. There are clear commitments. I sign things every year. They talk about it a lot. They have one-on-one sessions with me every year to talk about my giving, where I’m going with my life. How is United Way going to be a part of that? I have seen that be effective.
I see it more with my customers, but I am speaking from my own experience. I have been more on the start-up side of boards. When a board is starting up, the start-up phase is different. You have the start-up, the growth, and the cruise. The cruise control one is where United Way is. It’s healthy, big, knows what it’s doing. Different dynamics, different needs. It changes as the board changes.
Russell: A lot of tools we put together here at SynerVision address organizations at different stages. What I love about the model Hugh has created is it’s perfect for somebody who is starting. If you can structure everything right, which isn’t always the case, you’re going to have fewer problems later.
Hugh: Thank you for highlighting that. What I see, Jeb, is we do the people part of this. What’s missing is all the stuff you highlighted. The plethora of emails that is a cancer. I remember when we didn’t have email, when we didn’t have the Internet, we didn’t have cell phones or texting. We keep adding things, but we never take anything away. People are just bombarded. Sometimes they don’t read anything.
You’ve covered so many important topics here. Russell, you never saw this happen, but I have seen this happen. Board members come unprepared to a meeting.
Russell: That happens?
Jeb: I’ve never seen that happen.
Russell: When did that start?
Hugh: They’re busy people. They leave a board meeting and get sucked into the vortex of life. The next thing they know, there is another meeting coming up at 6:00. What was I supposed to do? It’s the engagement piece that keeps people tuned in between meetings. One of my missions in meetings is we teach people that we don’t work at meetings, we work in between meetings. We check in. it’s an accountability system. A planning session is different. A regular board meeting, we report on what we’ve done, and we define what we’re going to do and look for those points of collaboration and collision that we want to work on. Speak about those topics.
Jeb: You’re totally right. It’s the in-between that is so important. Board members think of their board services as simply the meeting. Here I am, I’m in the meeting. There are some boards where that is truly their role. That goes back to defining roles and responsibilities. If all they are doing is being advisory, or simply sitting there to listen and decide, that is one thing. A healthy board has projects and activities running in between meetings. To do that, there is a lot of management. You have to set that expectation up front of what kind of hours you are committing a month when you join this board. Very few boards have that conversation. They talk about the board meetings. They talk maybe about committees. Talking about the hours you will commit and spend. This is two or three hours a week, we expect you to come in for a meeting, etc. We redesigned the committees at United Way, and it has been a fascinating experience. We are moving more toward work groups. More ad hoc. Is this getting you excited?
Hugh: Oh yeah. There is the old adage that committees are a place where good ideas go to die.
Jeb: I respect that committees are still the primary vehicle for a lot of organizations and our customers. I think there are healthy committees. The idea of being more ad hoc subject matter experts that come together as needed around a problem to solve that problem. Those are being formed as needed. During board meetings, between board meetings. They are reporting back. You have a platform, whether it’s Boardable or something else, where they are able to collaborate, share content documents. That creates visibility to others in the organization so that work is not entirely happening in a silo. That makes the work more effective. It multiplies that work. That move is a good one. It gives people something to do. I hate sitting in a committee meeting and feeling like I have nothing to do with what’s being talked about. I want to feel like I have some skin in the game.
Hugh: Absolutely. Russell, this is music to our ears, isn’t it?
Russell: This is great stuff. Solution sessions are great because you got to get in there, got to get it done. You don’t have time to goof around. Having people with the right information. Understanding the roles and how everybody fits is communication. That is where things slip through the cracks, when somebody says, “I thought you were going to take care of that.” “Didn’t we agree you would?” You end up in this back and forth. You definitely want to stay out of that. You want to stay out of finger-pointing as well. What you’re doing is too important. Finger-pointing solves no problems. It keeps you away from course-correcting.
Hugh: I love it. My meetings always end with an action plan. Who is going to do it? What is the action? To do what? Who is the champion? What is the deadline? It ends up with a communication board. What is the specific message somebody that is not here needs to know? Who was going to tell them? We don’t think of those things. We sit around and talk about things to do. Everyone assumes the facilitator will do them.
Man, it’s been a lot of very helpful content here. What are board ambassadors? I want to ask you two questions. What are board ambassadors? There are groups, governance and financial oversight, which is your board of directors. The symphony has an advisory council. They are just what you said. We ask their advice. And we have advisors at large, people we call from time to time to give us advice. Those are the three sets of people we have connected. But the board of directors is fitting in to the role you are talking about, the group that is responsible for this organization. Are there other entities, besides committees or work groups or project teams, you find are helpful?
Jeb: You have YP boards. They are good to create a feeder system for the main board. Young professional boards. They are that group of younger people in their career, in their 20s often, who are rising in their careers. We see that happening more and more with nonprofits. They have YP boards. They can pick from their boards as you see leadership emerge. I like that system. You see who shows up. You see who gets things done. That also gets that age diversity issue, which I think is a real problem with boards. A lot of boards struggle to get those younger board members. It’s two things. The younger board members don’t have awareness around the opportunity, and I think they are intimidated by it as well. The YP board is a good piece for that.
Board ambassadors. That could be more on the emeritus side. Folks who have been on the board for a while, who are no longer in an active role but are still really important connectors in the community, and you want to keep them involved. That is one way to think about it. Perhaps you have a different thought on that term. I’m curious what you’re thinking.
Hugh: I love that. That’s a vacuum in my thinking. We do see a lot of old white guys. We see way too much of that. I have changed the symphony board so far. The 11 days I’m in, it’s already a different board. I had a good board to build on, so I’m not saying it was bad before. We are adding some of those elements of diversity.
Russell, we have about three minutes for a short question before we go into our sponsor message and give Jeb his last word.
Russell: We’re talking about bringing youth in. I like the idea of what I call reverse mentoring, where there is this knowledge exchange between generations. I went to a United Veterans Committee Colorado meeting this morning. Lots of gray hair. Yes, the brown guys get gray hair, too. This whole notion of diversity, I had a marvelous week last week helping Carol Carter with GlobalMinded at Be the Solution conference here in Denver. The whole event was about diversity and inclusion. If people don’t feel like they are a part of something, they won’t participate. That is a serious topic. We have covered that. It might be time for us to do another diversity and inclusion panel, Hugh. That is very important.
I am curious as to, and you have been on several boards, what has the composition of your board looked like? What did you need to do to help that along, or make any adjustments to make sure you had the bandwidth of ideas and energy?
Jeb: Each board has been unique in this aspect. The Speakeasy was founded by a bunch of white guys. We had to be intentional about diversifying the member base. People who were members of the co-working space, along with the board. Not in a check the box way, but in a legitimate, how do we get real perspectives into this? How do we get women into this? I am proud of where the board is now. It’s had three female executive directors in a row. It’s had a diverse board consistently.
In terms of the board I’m working with now, it’s diverse as well. There is a lot of opportunity to improve here. It’s tricky because I think that there aren’t natural pathways for people in different demographics to explore board service. I think this is a real challenge, especially in certain populations in Indianapolis. There is no awareness around it whatsoever. We have a three-phase road map: board management, which is the logistical side of it; board engagement, which gets into all the things we talked about in terms of nudging behavior to people saying what they said they will do; and board talent, really trying to give a tool to boards to get that talent, a matrix to see what diversity they have now, what skills they have now. And a marketplace for them to connect with people. We market that marketplace to populations that don’t currently think of board service. That is where we are taking the product.
This speaks to my desire to create more opportunity for others. I feel like this system is rigged. There is an opportunity to use technology and marketing and content to bring others into it. A board role can be transformative in the life of a person. It can broaden their network and connections. It can open doors that wouldn’t have been opened. It can lead to careers and opportunities that were not available to them before that role. To bring more of those roles to people of different backgrounds, not just of my background, but all kinds of backgrounds. I am a privileged person. I grew up with parents who volunteered with nonprofits. This is the culture I came from. It’s what I know. To give this experience to others is where we see the company going.
Hugh: Thank you on behalf of nonprofits for doing this. This work is so important. We will be having more conversations. Russell, I can smell some cross-support here, maybe more conversations about our alignment. We have things and you have things that would be better together.
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Jeb, give us the top traits of an effective board member. What thought do you want to leave us with? Then Russell will close us out.
Jeb: The seven things I discussed earlier: 1) A board member is prepared for meetings. 2) They are showing up. 3) They are following through. 4) They’re volunteering in the organization. 5) They’re advocating on behalf of the organization. That ambassador piece. 6) They’re helping with fundraising. 7) They’re donating, writing a check themselves. Those are the seven dimensions that we look at to measure in our product.
What was the other question?
Hugh: What tip do you have for people?
Jeb: I think my #1 tip to board leaders is if you are not comfortable having hard conversations, whether it’s the difficult or crucial conversations, take some time to do some training. Learn how to have those conversations in a way that is productive. I believe the difference between a good and a great organization is a lot of hard conversations. That skillset is important to build as a leader.
Russell: Jeb Banner, it’s been a remarkable hour. Thank you so much for coming to share your wisdom with us.
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