What, Me Worry About a Big Board?
"Why in heaven’s name would I even consider it?” This how my colleague Jeff Finkle, President & CEO of the International Economic Development Council, responded over dinner a few weeks ago when I asked him whether he’d ever thought about downsizing his relatively large 55-member board. Jeff and another close colleague of mine, Virginia Jacko, President & CEO of the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind (with a relatively svelte 26-member board), are birds of a feather where their boards are concerned. When these two extremely board-savvy CEOs look at their boards, they don’t see a management control challenge or an opportunity to trim their boards down to a more “manageable” size and make them more “corporate.” On the contrary, Jeff and Virginia see a precious asset (in Virginia’s words, “my best resource”) consisting of diverse experience, expertise, knowledge, perspectives, influence, and connections with the wider world – all of which they’ve put to work in successfully growing IEDC and the Lighthouse. Far from being seduced by the siren song of downsizing, they are dedicated to building ever more diverse boards that can be even more powerful engines for growing their nonprofit enterprises.
So I was delighted when Jeff and Virginia enthusiastically accepted my invitation to co-present a podcast on board diversity, following up on the February 1 post at this blog, “A Small, Un-diverse Board Is a Distinct Disadvantage In Today’s World.” In their podcast, they make a strong case for a board large enough to accommodate a diverse array of members who are representative of, in IEDC’s case, the IEDC membership, and in the case of the Lighthouse, the Greater Miami community. Both IEDC and the Lighthouse enforce board member term limits as a means of infusing new blood into their boards, and they both employ well-designed board standing committees to make their diverse boards highly efficient governing bodies.
Jeff and Virginia, along with a growing number of nonprofit CEOs who refuse to start down the dangerous slippery slope of board downsizing, understand that what makes the wrong-headed board downsizing advice so insidious is that it’s sold as an antidote to “unwieldy” and “un-cohesive” boards. What Jeff, Virginia, and their board-savvy colleagues have learned over the course of their careers is that that carefully crafted board structure and governing processes can achieve board manageability without sacrificing critical diversity.
By the way, as Jeff and Virginia make clear in their podcast, the process of diversifying their boards’ membership is anything but random. Both have honed the process of identifying candidates to fill board vacancies to a fine art that goes well beyond the who-knows-whom approach of old-time nominating committees.