Consider "Collective Competency" When Building Boards

Cheatham_collective competency for boards September 21, 2022 By: Craig Cheatham, CAE

To have a board in place that is set up for success, associations must take into account the collective competency of its volunteer leaders. Doing so means the board will be more prepared to meet its fiduciary responsibilities.

Boards established to lead and sustain nonprofits oversee and advise on a wide range of categories, such as management, fundraising, human resources, technology, and accounting. If board members were to consider the wide variety of functional areas under their purview, they easily could find the thought overwhelming.

Yet, too often in the process of recruiting board members, associations do not give enough weight to the goal of what I call “collective competency.”

Already so many perspectives need consideration during the search for board members. Each person’s background can add so much to the whole. Sometimes boards need to represent a particular community, so the appropriate focus is on representing as many segments of that subset of society as possible. Other times boards have the challenge of encompassing perspectives of the population of a whole country or the world. Thankfully, associations today recognize and prioritize that aspect of putting together a group set up for success in addressing the opportunities and challenges for the organization.

Attention to categories of personal contributions to group efforts has been growing recently as well. Some people are visionaries; some are consensus builders; and some focus primarily on why ideas might fail, which is a valuable perspective gaining more appreciation in groups these days. Then there are others who are great at distilling large amounts of data into concise, compelling messages, while some people’s gift is galvanizing support for ideas or projects and rallying the group to act. The list continues beyond these examples, and associations can benefit by building a robust index of these types of characteristics and seeking to balance their board by incorporating as many as possible.

Initial Steps

To make progress toward achieving this collective competency, build as comprehensive a list of areas over which the board has direct and indirect responsibility. Start by looking at the charge of each committee. Next look at line items in the budget. Check the annual report if your association produces one. Visit the website and read other publications. Also scan board meeting minutes from the last three years to identify relevant issues.

Associations today recognize and prioritize that aspect of putting together a group set up for success in addressing the opportunities and challenges for the organization.
In addition to management, fundraising, human resources, technology, and accounting I referenced earlier, here are several examples of the types of categories that might land on your list: education/training, certification, government relations, grants, marketing, communications, legal, strategic planning, real estate, investments, and finance. Don’t forget nonprofit management and governance experience as well. On top of those categories, which probably would apply to most every organization, don’t forget to the areas specific to your organization’s mission. For instance, a humane society would need its board to encompass experience and expertise unique to the care of animals.

Perhaps no board ever will achieve perfect collective competence, but the more completely a group rounds out its list, the more prepared it will be to meet its fiduciary responsibilities. It will also give the board more confidence about its deliberations and actions and save money on hiring outside experts to fill in the gaps.

Whether you are building your board or recruiting for open positions, be sure to supplement your process with a system for incorporating collective competency. Accumulating the areas of expertise and experience that match every area of oversight will make as significant and positive a difference in your board’s strength and success as your efforts to incorporate key demographics, perspectives, and attributes.

Craig Cheatham, CAE

Craig Cheatham, CMP, CAE, is president and CEO of The Realty Alliance in Colorado Springs.