by Jini Stolk

We all make mistakes, but these are some I hope we can avoid in 2016.

Dropping past board members like hot potatoes. A number of people have told me they’ve been mystified when a charity they’ve been deeply involved with seems to forget them when they leave the board. Communication dwindles…invitations dry up…their major interaction now seems to be with the Development Office. (Trigger alert! I am NOT speaking about personal experience; fear not, my beloved former boards.) I’m pretty sure I’ve done this myself, without meaning to and perhaps without fully realizing it. I believe that Managing and to some extent Artistic Directors tend to focus on the things retiring board members will not miss (frequent meetings, committee obligations, financial worries, persistent fundraising from friends and family) rather than on the things they will (camaraderie and friendships, being close to artists who inspire them, collaborating with people they care for, and pride in helping an organization grow and thrive.)

It’s easy to avoid or reverse this mistake. DO forward special board communications and invitations to past members with a “thought you might be interested” or “hope you too can join us” note; always personalize fundraising requests to past board members; make time for an annual lunch; get their input into new strategies and plans; and ask for help (such as important hosting at openings and events) that they’re uniquely positioned to provide.

Best of all: Ask past board members to mentor incoming members – sharing organizational history, board processes, and advice enriched by years of close participation. This is a great way to keep past board close to your core, and to use their experience and wisdom to bring new board members closer.

Adding an in camera session to every meeting agenda. This was recently suggested as a way to ensure that arts and non-profit boards are fulfilling their governance and oversight responsibilities; I gather it’s a strategy gaining currency in the U.S., and moving into governance discussions in Canada. Before I had fully formulated my own objections to an idea that reaffirms hierarchy in a sector that thrives on trust and creative collaboration, I came across a piece entitled In Camera Board Sessions: Securing Confidentiality or Cultivating a Culture of Secrecy? There are certainly times when board member(s) or staff should leave the board room (when they are in a conflict of interest on an item being discussed) or when a board might want to discuss something in private (such as salaries or the evaluation of the managing director.) It’s also a tactic that can be used, once in a lifetime, to encourage a senior staff’s resignation.

Other than that, I can’t think of many reasons to forego a trusting relationship of professional equals, mutually responsible for the health and mission of the organization, in order to quell fiduciary and accountability concerns. While the details of board discussions (who spoke for and against a motion, for example) should be confidential, the article makes a neat differentiation between confidentiality, which “requires, but does not strain, trust” and secrecy.

It also offers some excellent advice about what should and should not be included in meeting minutes – a rarely discussed topic.

A friend whose arts organization adopted the practice, for a time, of regular in camera board sessions said that discussions at board meetings became muted and constrained. It turns out that board members were saving their important thoughts for the in camera sessions, rather than engaging in open and transparent debate about the complex issues facing their organization.

Using Raiser’s Edge: I know some organizations are happy with the program but this piece (from a competitor!)  summarizes many of the complaints and dissatisfactions I’ve heard over the years from Raiser’s Edge users: too big, not user-friendly, difficult and expensive to learn, not flexible, hard to design and pull reports.

Let the Fundraisers in our midst debate.





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