I recently attended the biennial nonprofit governance conference co-sponsored by the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership and the Nonprofit Quarterly.  As always, I found it exciting to hear the most cutting-edge research that impacts the work I do.

I walked away with a great deal, but one of the key validations was work done by Will Brown out of Texas A & M University.  Will has been looking at factors that encourage board members to fulfill their roles and responsibilities.  He found the strongest is mission attachment.

This really should not be a surprise to anyone.  It seems obvious that someone who has an affinity for your organization’s mission is likely to work harder to see it come to fruition.  However, the finding should serve as a reminder to all of us recruiting board members that focusing on finding people who care about the mission is truly important.  Such research might even get us to rethink our often single-minded desire to identify individuals with affluence and influence – shown a few years back by Dave Renz and Bob Herman at the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership to be negatively correlated to board effectiveness.

It should also serve as a reminder of the necessity for frequent board education.  It is only through the internalization of the organization’s values, client stories, program statistics, and outcomes that mission attachment – and pride! – can grow.

Of course, my 30 plus years of experience convinces me that boards should also be looking for strategic thinkers – people who ask the hard questions, probe, understand the ramifications of decisions and can look beyond the same old, same old to creatively help move the organization closer to the achievement of its vision.  But what a combination… people with passion who are motivated by that passion to use their skills as strategic thinkers to benefit the organization!  There is little such board members couldn’t accomplish.

By Terrie Temkin