Super Human Board Members

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I’ll admit it. I’ve been slacking! It’s been a few weeks since I last sat down to write this blog.  In the interim, I have traveled a bit, met with clients, played a few rounds of golf and hung out with my family. So yes, I have been remiss in not keeping up with my writing assignment. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been thinking about it. In fact, just like when I put things off in college, I have been thinking about it a lot!

One of the things about which I have been thinking came to light just the other day. I drove a friend of my daughter, Cameron, up to Lake Forest College on the north shore of Chicago. This friend wanted to look at the College, and I just happened to be going in that direction. It was fun to be back on the Lake Forest campus, where I served as vice president for development in the early eighties. Much of the campus is exactly the same (right down to the carpet in the administration building, which needed replacing when I was there and still does!). The College, however, has made a number of important physical improvements, including a beautiful addition to the Donnelley Library and a major addition to the student union. All in all, the campus looks great.

What I remember most about my days at Lake Forest is not the beauty of the campus, however. I remember the incredible strength of the College’s board of trustees.

There are three individuals in particular that come to mind when I think about the Lake Forest board. These three gentlemen were the real leadership of the College’s board, and they made an amazing difference in just about everything that happened at the College.

Since we are working with a client on strategic planning at the moment, I was thinking specifically about the attributes that made these three individuals such outstanding board members for Lake Forest College. I think that these attributes describe an outstanding board member for just about any organization.

To begin with, these three individuals were fully engaged in the life of the College. Now understand, these were not retirees with plenty of free time on their hands. These were highly productive, senior-level executives who traveled extensively and worked really hard at their jobs. And yet, they could always find time, clear their calendars, or return our phone calls when assistance was needed. We could count on them.

Perhaps just as important, they were extremely supportive of the College. Now, I know what you are thinking—they were big donors! Well, it’s true, they were. They gave generously, they gave regularly, and they gave with enthusiasm. Sometimes, they gave when we weren’t expecting it. I remember one day when a huge flatbed truck arrived on the campus with an enormous load of trees. I got the call, asking what we were to do with all of these trees. It turned out that one of these board members had been noticing that the campus was looking a bit too barren (it is Lake FOREST, after all) and had purchased trees to be planted around the campus. When I called him, he told me that he had also arranged to have the trees planted—they just needed to know where we wanted them. Yes, these three board members were supportive donors to the College, but they were also supportive in so many other ways. The supported the President of the College and the staff in so many ways—nice notes when something went well, special phone calls to ask how we were doing, invitations to their homes for special occasions. They were supportive of the faculty as well—one of them always threw a party at the beginning of the school year, to welcome new faculty members and recognize returning ones.

These three were perhaps the College’s best ambassadors, particularly in the community of Lake Forest. They brought friends to campus, they encouraged others to support the college. By example, they set a very high bar for their colleagues on the board.

One more thing. These three board members were thoughtful, could be critical, were well informed about the College’s activities, and really cared.

You may be thinking that I am describing super-human board members, but these three really existed. And, during the course of my career, I can think of others at other organizations that performed their roles as board members at an equally high level. Unfortunately, it’s not the norm, but I suspect we can all think of some individuals who qualify as “super board members.”

Share your recollections of great board members that you have encountered here if time permits. Our non-profit organizations are richer and stronger thanks to these individuals and I think we should recognize their contributions. Certainly, Lake Forest College is a stronger institution today because of the three board members that I remember so well.


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