Board Service. All About the Gs.


By: Joe Patti

In: Arts Admin, Board & Committee Management

The Old Gs

I was recently very encouraged to read the idea “that [non-profit] boards must be packed with influential connectors” is becoming increasingly obsolete.

Learning this was a relief to me, and probably a lot of people, who have worked in arts organizations where board membership was often defined by the narrow philosophy of “get, give or get off” – essentially, solicit donations, make a donation or get off the board.

It might be forgiven then if you viewed the purpose of a board of directors to be fund raising.

T. Roosevelt Cabinet
Teddy Roosevelt and his cabinet —or your board?

The Real G

The truth is, they primary purpose of a board is another “G” entirely, Governance. Anything else the board does is extraneous.

A board is required to exist by federal and state law as a guarantor that the organization is being run in a financially sound, legal and ethical manner. There is no legal requirement that any of these people be involved with fundraising, marketing, artistic planning other than in a oversight capacity.

Ignoring these responsibilities will get you in legal trouble. Failing to help with fundraising and marketing may result in uncomfortable conversations.

No organization’s bylaws start with a requirement to donate to the organization. (Partially because the bylaws are often copied from another organization, but that is another post.)

Recently, the conversation about boards of directors has been focusing on governance. This is partially because the discovery of impropriety or the plain failure of organizations often raises the question about whether a board was diligently pursuing its duties.

Getting Back To Basics

But there has also been a greater recognition of the need to communicate a more holistic view of board service. The focus recently is on governance and the board’s connection with the community.  This often means a board that is more diverse and representative of the community rather than one that can garner the most financial support. Given that the original reason non-profits were required to have boards was to represent the community being served, this is a good thing.

” ‘Interacting effectively’ in these times means that board members are connected enough to the organization and its stakeholder environment to ensure proper communication with stakeholders. Board members should be capable of listening with an educated ear for the tremors and trends in the organization’s environment.”

So how does one learn how to assemble and train a great board?

Among some good resources are:

Joe Patti
Joe Patti
In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats ( since 2004. I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. ( I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO. Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.
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