Monday, July 26, 2010

Should Board Members’ Contributions Be Designated To Pay For Their Education?

I was speaking with a couple of colleagues the other day and the subject of board contributions came up. Later in the conversation we transitioned into the importance of ongoing board education and organizations building a sufficiently-large line item into their budgets for this. And then the idea bubbled up: What if one of the expectations of board service was that a portion of each board member’s personal contribution to the organization went to pay specifically for board education?

Such an expectation would do several things. It would communicate to the world that the organization believes an educated board is important. It would provide necessary dollars for such board education, without cutting into dollars dedicated to programming. And, it would help board members value the education the organization provides, because research affirms that people ascribe more value to something for which they pay rather than get for free.

There are some issues to consider. When my colleagues and I were talking, someone arbitrarily threw out $500 as the portion of each board member’s contribution that would go into this board education fund. While a substantial amount, with an average-sized board of 16, that only puts $8000 into the education coffer. True, $8000 is more than most boards currently devote to board education. But, $8000 won’t go far if the money is to be used for a true retreat, conference expenses or coaching, for instance. Asking for a number larger than $500 might be a non-starter for most boards – at least at this stage in the game. And, what happens in those organizations that ask for a personally meaningful gift from each board member instead of a contribution of a specific dollar amount? Yes, the leadership could opt to allot the entire board member contribution to its education fund, or designate a percentage, but how can any organization create an education budget if the ultimate total is an unknown? Perhaps the answer is that the board would still have to assign to the board education line a dollar amount from its general operating funds and use the contributions just to enhance its educational opportunities.

The biggest issue may be that some people will resent this set-aside, either out of principle or the belief that they do not need education – perhaps they’ve sat on many boards over the years and believe they have the job down pat. My guess is, though, this reality may be off-set by those that clamor to join a board that devotes so much attention to its board members and provides leadership training that they can then take back to their jobs or on to other organizations.

As someone who firmly believes in ongoing board education at every meeting, I love what this concept could “buy.” But I recognize it would require a major culture shift in most organizations. What do you see as the pros and cons? Is this an idea with sufficient value to push?

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