Boards and Directors

by Allyson Lazar


Handouts from the Museum Trustee Association

Bright and early last Wednesday morning I sat in on a session on Director/Board Relations at the annual WMA conference, moderated by Jim McCreight, President of the Museum Trustee Association. His panelists were Mo King, Immediate Past Chair of the Mingei International Museum in San Diego and Derrick Cartwright, formerly the Director of the San Diego Museum of Art and now the Director of the Seattle Art Museum.

As a relatively new member of the WMA board, I thought it would do me some good to listen to some pros talk about leadership, the role of the board, building a strong board and how to maintain healthy board/director relations--and I was right! I learned a lot in this session, so I thought I'd share some of the helpful nuggets of wisdom I gathered from the session.

Two-way trust, transparency and support are key to board/director relations. Mutual respect is necessary.

The board must:

  • understand their fiscal responsibility
  • preserve the mission
  • set policy
  • be committed to the mission, strategic planning and fundraising

The director must:

  • communicate effectively with the board, and in a timely fashion, particularly if there are problems
  • be able to deal with constructive criticism
  • handle small problems quickly before they mushroom

"If the relationship between the Executive Director and the Chair fails, you're sunk." -- audience member

"If they are getting the job done, you don't have to like them." -- Jim on differing styles

Tips for a strong board:

  • Strategically identify board prospects--and identify them early on.
  • The board should evaluate itself according to its Board Contract.
  • Commitment to the mission is crucial--fundraising alone is not enough.
  • Well-run, well-organized board retreats are good for keeping a board energized.
  • Have orientation meetings for new board members with the Executive Director, the Chair and the Immediate Past Chair (and possibly the Development Director).
  • Make sure new board members know what is expected of them in terms of both money and time.
  • Maintain communication!

What would you add to these lists? Comment below!



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