Controversial fundraiser: A lesson in board recruitment?

A Texas-based hunting group called the Dallas Safari Club is announcing a fundraiser to “save the black rhino” by auctioning a hunting permit to kill a black rhino, according to yesterday’s article in the International Business Times. Ben Carter, the Club’s director, insists the permit will raise $500,000 in support of conservation of this endangered species in Namibia.

If this controversial story gave you pause like it did for me, we can only imagine what board questions might have surrounded this fundraising discussion. Does the end justify the means? What message are we sending our members? Can we afford harmful press if we’re raising hard-to-raise funds for an obscure species? Even these plausible questions sound ridiculous when looking from the outside in.

What kind of decision-makers do you have?

Reflections on this (perhaps fictional) board meeting reminded me of an interview question I asked of our recently featured governance expert and author, Cathy Trower. I prompted Trower about board composition, which elicited a very helpful answer about the importance of considering the group dynamics you have when recruiting board members as well as factoring in upcoming projects where you may need devil’s advocates, consensus-builders, divergent thinkers and more.

How might the board’s decision-making process for the Dallas Safari Club have changed if the nominating committee recruited members based on Trower’s recommendations below? How would a devil’s advocate have changed the course of this fundraising idea? How would discussing the club’s goals and future work affect the decision? How might some of the most important decisions made about your organization’s future improve if your board adopted Trower’s criteria?

CausePlanet: Cathy, will you explain why effective board composition involves more than professional expertise?

Trower: First, if we only consider professional expertise when selecting board members, we could overlook the quality of thinking that someone might add, regardless of his/her profession. And, we may inadvertently signal that the expertise a person brings (e.g., financial, legal, real estate) is what is wanted from him/her for his/her board service–almost inviting the person into that operational domain.

By saying this, however, I don’t want to imply that nonprofit board members do not and should not bring that expertise to bear pro bono, just not be limited in that direction or see it as their personal charge (which can add angst to the professional staff’s jobs working as liaisons to various committees or feeling second-guessed). Board members have to keep in mind that when it comes to the nonprofit they serve, they are the part-time amateurs overseeing the work of the full-time professionals.

Consider your group dynamic. What kind of team players do you need?

Second, nonprofits should consider the group dynamic when selecting new board members, as I discuss in chapter four. Will this person add to the team we have assembled in a positive way? Is the person a team player? What is the mix, for example, of consensus-builders and devil’s advocates, divergent and convergent thinkers, idealists and pragmatists on the board?

What kind of board work is on deck?

Third, it is wise to also think about the work ahead of the board in the next several years when we consider potential board members. For example, are we entering into an era of increased regulation? Is new product and program development going to be critical? Are technology and delivery systems changing for us? The better we understand what lies ahead, the better we will do selecting people with experiences most appropriate for our boards.

Author interview with governance expert Cathy Trower:

Give your board new direction and results by learning more about Trower’s Practitioner’s Guide on three proven spheres of leadership – register for our live interview with Cathy Trower on December 12.

See also:

The Board Game

The Ultimate Board Member’s Guide

The Nonprofit Leadership Team

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