For an incorporated non-profit organization, a board is a group of volunteers who agree to take on the governance and ultimate responsibility of an organization. In the governance structure of incorporated non-profits, boards have ultimate legal authority over any persons working for the organization. Officially they are your boss.
In the best case scenario, a board is essentially a dedicated community of people (often non-artists) who want to work towards supporting the work of artists, seeking no financial compensation in return.
- A legal requirement for any incorporated organization
- The volunteer board members become representatives of the organization and can broaden your network of support and connection to communities.
- Individual board members may bring valuable skills to the organization ie. Marketing, accounting, education, legal, etc. for which the organization doesn’t have to pay
- Can provide free hands-on support for events, activities, applications, etc.
- If they have agreed to donate their time to your organization, that probably means that they believe in you and what you are doing – that feels good!
- Can offer diverse perspectives on the direction of the organization, asking useful questions and providing advice.
- They can offer important accountability requirements to those persons in charge of the day-to-day duties of the organization
- Boards require you to relinquish ultimate decision making responsibilities for the organization, into their hands. If it comes to it, they can “fire” you.
- Working with a board and activating any individual board member’s skills requires time patience and good people skills.
- Sometimes, the board who is responsible for ultimate decision making, do not work in arts industry and therefore may not understand the nuances and realities of the industry
- As volunteers, the time, resources, and interest they can offer you may be limited.
The following titles listed are unofficial titles, but can help when thinking about who to approach and select to be part of your board.
If you are a young, small, recently incorporated organization, it is important to consider recruiting board members with whom you have a personal connection. If your board members are invested in you as people (as opposed to the organization as a separate entity from you), then they will be more supportive as you learn and grow through the process of working with a board, being more patient when mistakes are made (and they will be made). These people may not offer as much expert hands-on support, but it is a way to fulfill legal requirements without demanding too much of your time, while you gain experience with other requirements of incorporation.
This is a style of board who contribute their knowledge, skills and time towards helping with practical needs of the organization, essentially serving as un-paid staff ie. Marketing specialist writing content for the website or press release; education specialist helping to craft an accompanying curriculum package for teachers attending a performance. This type of board is useful for small organizations to help accomplish tasks while financial resources are limited. Keep in mind that as board members they are volunteers and you must be realistic about what they can accomplish for you with their available donated time.
Once the organization grows larger it is important that the board is focusing on bigger-picture strategic goals and health of the organization, ie. Succession planning and new hiring of key leadership positions, maintenance of by-laws and internal policies, long-term strategic planning, etc. It is also important that at a certain stage, the board has more of an arms-length relationship with the organization’s leadership to ensure transparent, public accountability and an honest check to the leadership’s authority.
Ideally, you should think about having a combination of all of these types of board to ensure that you have personal support in your growth as an arts leader, hands-on help in getting things done, and a strong strategic eye on the overall health and functioning of the organization. It is up to you to decide at what point in your organizations’ growth you want to emphasize a certain approach to your board.
Board recruitment can be a challenging mix of seeking out people with specific skill sets, encouraging participation from enthusiastic volunteers, and building a cohesive team to advance your organization’s goals. It is important to keep in mind that it is a team that will be working together on your organization’s behalf, and not just a drawer full of tools with specific uses. As volunteers, the pleasure and satisfaction board members receive from being a part of the organization can be greatly impacted by who they are working alongside. These are some traditional skills sought for creating a board of directors, but the list is not exhaustive, and you should consider what your organization’s goals are, and who would best help you achieve them:
- Lawyer: Can be useful when it comes to creating and understanding the language of by-laws, government administrative requirements, and any other legal issues that come up for your organization. There are many different kinds of lawyers, so keep in mind the nature of the help you might want them to provide.
- Educator: Useful when considering work connected to youth or education in general. Can provide useful contacts within various boards of education.
- Marketing specialist: Can provide support for branding, marketing campaigns, online or print content, or even additional marketing support for any fundraising events the board may host.
- Accountant: Can help you understand the financial aspects of the organization as government reporting requires more stringent tracking of money (especially if you are a charity). An accountant can also provide support in communicating the financial position of the organization to the rest of the board during board meetings.
- Artist: Important to consider having an artist on the board who can offer a more educated perspective on the arts industry within board conversations. This can be important when considering that a board of directors has ultimate authority over decision-making and an artist’s perspective and vote could be useful in informing those decisions.
- Community Stakeholders: If your organization is serving a specific geographic area or demographic group, then it could be important to have representatives from those communities on your board. They can offer valuable perspectives on the needs of a specific community as well as providing connections to networks within specific communities.
- Events Specialist: It can be useful to have someone who has experience in planning events in case your organization is planning on holding a fundraising event at some point. Fundraising events can be very challenging to organize in a way that makes them worth the time and resources of hosting – having someone who is experienced and enjoys this kind of work can be the difference maker in the success of the event and the drain on resources for the organization.
Because of the nature of a board’s executive power, it is recommended that you create a thorough interview and vetting process when recruiting new board members. In asking someone to volunteer their time and perhaps financial resources toward your organization, it is important to have a clear conversation of your expectations in regards to time, skills, money, and access to personal networks that you are asking of them. Likewise, they need an opportunity to voice their expectations of their role in your organization and the benefits for them. Check out this Board Recruitment Process resource to start thinking about the best ways to organize and hire your board.
Potential board members can be found in all kinds of places – your audience, personal networks, board match events, other boards, etc. The younger your organization is, the more important a personal connection may be when seeking new board recruits.