While listening to panelists at the Crain’s Arts and Culture Breakfast titled Board Games: How to Build and Keep a Strong Board, I was struck by what was not mentioned as pivotal in building strong boards: functional expertise.
But first what was mentioned. Panelists included Alan Fishman, chairman, Brooklyn Academy of Music; George Steel, general manager and artistic director, New York City Opera; Laveen Naidu, executive director, Dance Theatre of Harlem; and Toni Goodale, chief executive, Goodale Associates, a fundraising and management consulting firm.
A summary news article of the topics discussed is at Crain’s New York. Generally, panelists discussed the current trends in industries from which to draw potential board members; the importance of a board containing fully contributing members and the option of creating an advisory council; optimal board size; the motivation for board membership from increasing social stature to funding one’s passion to supporting an arts group that one believes in or connects with, but may not attend; and using board members to raise awareness of an arts organization.
In my experience in addressing board needs, meeting their expectations, and presenting to them, I’ve found one thing in common: keep it short, clear, and to the point. But more importantly, I’ve found that having one or more board members with a marketing background exponentially increases the success rate of endorsement of branding and communications initiatives. A marketing experienced board member brings at least four important aspects to the situation. This person is usually:
1. A seasoned and/or charismatic corporate professional who is well-versed in explaining marketing concepts to non-marketers in ways that ensure understanding.
2. A leader who is comfortable in rallying people around a cause and building consensus from disparate viewpoints.
3. An advocate for the project to other board members, building a coalition for the project among a sub-set of the overall board and using this to convert other board members and quell naysayers. (Yup, that’s really the way things get done.)
4. An expert at conveying board concerns back to a branding project team so they can be addressed and rectified before issues become problems.
My marketing and/or communications manager clients at visual and performing arts organizations are split on the value of a marketing-oriented board member. It all depends on the relationship the board has with staff, the level of trust and collegiality, and whether a board is “hands-on” or “hands-off” as they say in the biz. Marketing staff managers who do NOT like a marketing-oriented board member sometimes feel the person looks over their shoulder and doesn’t provide the proper level of trust, independence, and separation.
Marketing staff managers who DO like a marketing-oriented board member feel as I do. They appreciate having someone on-board (literally) who has a marketing/communications mindset and can relate to the difficulties or challenges that marketing managers face. They appreciate having an advocate for their organization function on the board. And, finally, both the manager and board member enjoy creating a relationship that is mutually conducive to moving a project and the organization forward.