DBD AXIOMS: Boards Can’t Heal Themselves

November 4, 2014



Written By: Bruce

By Bruce Berglund

At Donor By Design, we are guided by a series of axioms: Core concepts that shape our work and have proven their worth over and over again. In this series, we’re digging into these axioms and clarify how they can help you achieve your development goals. Read Part 1.

It has been my observation that, over time, boards begin to drift. Boards that were once strong now don’t pack the same leadership punch that they once did. Why?

Most boards have a nominating or board development committee made up of members of the board. They meet and begin to brainstorm names of people they know to recruit to the board. They develop lists and then are dispatched to help find the next class of leadership for their charity.

I believe the reason that boards slowly drift toward less influence and affluence is something we call “the law of lateral recruitment.”

Law of Lateral Recruitment: “people most often recruit within their own socio-economic status.”

Simply stated, these board members tasked with recruiting the next class of leadership will most naturally recruit from their own socio-economic status or below. Over time, the board loses strength.

This sounds grim, right? We can, however, reverse this trajectory.

Find Yourself a “Big L” Leader

You know who I’m talking about: A person of both influence and affluence. They are leaders; they are doers. A simple litmus test is asking, “Does this potential Big L leader have access to the top ten leaders in your community?” If the answer is “yes,” go humbly recruit this leader to your board and ask them if they could help you find two other leaders just like them. Their special assignment will be to help you transform the board. Hint: Big L leaders love to help and fix.

The Value of Recruiting in Threes

Have you ever recruited a wonderful new board member and done the happy dance because you knew they would help transform your charity? Then, that individual shows up to the board meeting and realizes there isn’t anyone like them* sitting around the table. The conversation isn’t about things that they can get excited about. What happens? That new board member starts to lose enthusiasm and slowly drifts away.

The value of recruiting in threes is that there are now three Big L leaders who have joined the board. These new board members collectively begin to change the tone, agenda and trajectory of your board. Board members who are under-performers start to naturally self-select off the board. Rarely do we need to “fire” them; they simply realize that the board has changed. Recruit in threes and ask these leaders to help you transform your board.

DBD - Interest and Capacity

Has your board drifted to a weaker position? Identify what you need, find a Big L leader (actually three) and begin to watch the healing. Remember, boards can’t heal themselves.


* A word about “looking like them.” This isn’t about race or gender or what kind of car they drive or even age. What it does mean is that Big L Leaders like to be surrounded by people just as ambitious, bold and mission-driven as they are. Put that kind of a leader in a board meeting in which the agenda revolves around what items are going to be in the bake sale and they’ll be gone before you know it. Give them a chance to change the destiny of your organization through philanthropy or advocacy, however, and they’ll be inspired and committed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One response to “DBD AXIOMS: Boards Can’t Heal Themselves”

  1. […] Bruce Berglund’s 2014 Blog on Why Boards Can’t Heal Themselves […]