The Five-Tool Board Member

By the end of the summer, I have spent so much time on baseball fields that I have a keen understanding of what it takes to build a winning team. A key element is to develop players to have the five tools of an all-star player.  At bat, the five-tool player can hit for average, hit for power, and has amazing speed.  He complements this with great fielding and a strong arm.    In the major leagues only a few have ever achieved this star power like Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mickey Mantle.  Yet every player aspiring to greatness works on those five skills.  Every winning team recruits for these five areas.  

This team-building process using a five-tool framework can be applied to non-profit boards of directors ready for the big leagues. This approach recognizes the broad talents required for building high-performing boards.  And like great baseball players, every board member needs to work on building these tools.  Like winning teams, every board needs to recruit for the five tools and that special five-tool board member.

Here are the five tools or competencies that non-profit boards should target and build:

1) Mission-Focus – Every board member needs to firmly commit to the mission and not just in words.  Board members must embrace and support the organization’s mission and it must go deeper than writing a check or showing up for meetings.  A board member’s engagement is closely linked to their passion for the mission.

 2) Leadership – Board members need to be recruited for their ability to build and motivate teams to deliver tangible results.  The focus should be on recruiting for leadership characteristics and not solely for a title or functional expertise.  For example, it is better to seek out a board member who has built diverse, global teams for a financial services organization rather than someone in just any finance role.

 3) Connections - Board members who consistently deliver the greatest impact are the ones who make meaningful connections, whether it is with donors or other leaders who can influence outcomes for your organization.   They must have the vision and willingness to bring the right people together for the organization’s mission.

 4) Business Savvy – Yes, I said it. Business skills do belong in a non-profit.  They just need to be tempered by the mission.  Board leaders must understand how to get things done within the organization’s resource constraints and help expand resources within a sustainable model.   This means board members must monitor the current and future bottom line, cash flow and reserves.

5) Collaborator – Board members who can work positively across functional areas and even reach outside the organization to address its greatest needs are highly valued.  They can take an organization from survival mode to thriving with greater impact.

As you think about your board, make sure you recruit and retain with these five tools in mind.  Although fundraising is not explicitly stated in any of these tools, I believe that if you find board members with the first three tools they will have the toolkit for an effective fundraiser.  Ideally, all board members should possess at least three of these tools with the mission-focused tool required of everyone. The Board Chair and other key leaders should be all-stars – the five-tool board members.   

When you take stock of your board based on the five-tool framework, you will identify your all-stars, bench strength and competency gaps.   With this assessment, your recruiting efforts can better focus on filling the gaps to build a stronger board and winning team.

Who are your five-tool board members? Is your board ready for the big leagues?

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