By Mr. Zach Clark, who serves as the Director of Advancement at Westminster Christian Academy, St. Louis.
One of the questions I'm most often asked by other advancement leaders, school administrators, and even the occasional head of school, is:
"How do you relate to your board effectively?
This question is followed often by an emotionally-charged story, punctuated by groans of frustration.
Lurking behind this question are the unspoken, "How do I get the board to better support what I'm doing? How do you mobilize the board for positive impact? Or, how can I get along better with my board?"
This is an area where many school leaders openly admit a great deal of insecurity and frustration. I do have some key principles that after much prayer, some mistakes, and ongoing struggle I try to apply consistently.
0. I recognize that I am a person under authority, and that God purposefully places me under specific authority for my own good. That is the Head of School. His/her authority comes from the Board, so I am ultimately under the authority of the Board which holds in trust the mission of the school. I believe that God not only calls and equips you and me to advance His work, but positions us as well within a structure and under authority uniquely suited to accomplish His purposes for our role.
1. My “role” as director of advancement does not include any formal responsibility or role to influence the board nomination process. I do prayerfully seek the Lord for wisdom and opportunity to do the following on occasion: a)suggest a potential individual to a board member, asking if they have every been considered for board membership; or b)add individuals to various volunteer committees that might grow to make good potential board members in the future, should the board so lead.
2. I focus my primary board-related energy on growing and maintaining a great advancement committee (which is a board committee) rather than worrying about the board overall. I’m not sure if I do a great job with the advancement committee, but I have successfully grown the advancement committee, which has led to the addition of key new board members. I continue to serve alongside the committee members to shape the role of the committee and grow the committee with great individuals, some of whom might make great board members someday.
3. I also try to spend a great deal of time with individual board members. I don’t do this as well as I’d like, but I am committed to this approach and believe that God has been blessing my efforts in spite of myself. One expert I know suggests that you interact with board members as often as you would your most faithful and generous donors. This seems a good rule of thumb in evaluating the amount of time to invest in the board.
4. Lastly, and this goes along with the point about investing time, I work to keep my focus on learning as much as possible from each board member. It's easy for relationships between staff and board members to become acrimonious. Taking the time to know their families, prayer requests, skills and talents, and involvement in our community inside the school and out, helps keep my focus on them as people who God has called as a part of His plan for our school.
I'm sure I'll continue to add to this list as God provides new opportunities to learn. But for now, applying each principle with tangible habits and the investment of time is bearing fruit in my efforts to serve well.
Question: What habits to you live out in working with your board members?