The Ultimate Board Member's Book
By Kay Sprinkel Grace
Published by Emerson & Church Publishers, Medfield, Mass., 114 pages, $24.95
WHEN IS the last time you read a book with 41 chapters? If you are new to a directorship of a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization and seek a quick primer--A 1--Hour Guide to Understanding and Fulfilling Your Role and Responsibilities is the volume's subtitle--this book may be for you. Rest easy: No chapter exceeds two pages.
Written in a conversational style, Grace's book reflects a lot of experience with boards of organizations large and small, local and national, highly focused in mission and comprehensive in purpose. The good news is that the book covers many important topics, and it really can be read in an hour or so; the bad news is that many of the complex issues challenging responsible governing boards is superficially addressed. Is it worthwhile reading? Yes, especially for the board member who is new to his or her volunteer calling. Should it be your primary resource to help you cope conscientiously with your new responsibilities? No, but it's a good place to start.
The most enlightening of the book's seven sections are those titled "How Boards Work," "Meetings," and "Working with Staff." The soft and touchy-feely sections are those titled "Noble Service," "Holding in Trust," "Development and Fundraising," and "Recruiting and Retaining," although certain chapters within these sections are worth reading. What's missing are suggestions for more in-depth reading--especially annotations of the best of the expanding current literature in nonprofit directorship--on each of the many complex subjects the author only scratches the surface of in the text. And cliches abound.
Grace usefully calls attention to the "board development committee" as "the most important committee of the board." She cites the importance of "de-enlisting" board members who deserve to be asked to leave. (There continues to be too much dysfunctional politeness in too many for-profit and not-for-profit boardrooms.) She urges annual, private meetings with all board members by the board chair or chief executive (a worthy and ambitious goal, to be sure--if impractical in many settings). And she calls for more thoughtful and substantive processes by which to assess the performance of chief executives (annually) and boards (periodically) themselves--although her practical advice is on the thin side.
With regard to chief...