Board Alphabet: T’s, W’s, G’s, and P

By: David Shufflebarger, Senior Partner

Well done, the work of college and university governing boards is hard work. And today that work is more frequently done under public scrutiny based on such things as federal scorecards, financial aid stress tests, bond ratings, state mandates for improved graduation rates, and, sadly, leaders behaving badly. Not surprisingly, then, there have been numerous calls for strengthening the role of governing boards.

Boards are made up of people, so bolstering these Boards starts with getting the right people on the bus. Whether private or public, institutions are increasingly looking to philanthropy as a strategic ingredient for maintaining or restoring their financial health. Thus, Board leadership in giving is one important component in considering who should get a bus ticket.  But, it ought to be the last, not the first, criterion.

In August the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges issued a statement on the fiduciary duties of governing board members. It emphasized the duties of loyalty, care, and obedience all in support of the institution’s mission.

Among the gauges frequently used for what Board members should bring to the bus to fulfill these duties are the three T’s – Time, Talent, and Treasure — and the three W’s – Work, Wisdom, and Wealth. To elaborate:

  • Whether it’s Time or Work, and it really is both, a Board member must be committed to doing the basics of Board work. That involves preparing for meetings by reviewing all materials in advance, showing up at meetings, and participating in them. If there are issues that the Board member does not understand then that will require additional time and effort to get up to speed in advance.
  • Whether it’s Talent or Wisdom, a Board member should be willing to supply and apply skills the Board needs.
  • Whether it’s Treasure or Wealth, a Board member should provide a leadership example by supporting the institution’s development program with a gift and by identifying and engaging prospective donors. Sometimes this is invoked by the three G’s – Give, Get, or Get Off. That’s a mantra I abhor because I don’t believe getting can be done without giving first.

The missing letter here is ‘P’ for Passion. When added to the criteria cited above it will take Boards to new heights of effective leadership.