Sometimes the resources you need are right under your nose. Consider this case:
Doris Bailey recently retired as a senior administrator from Mega State University, where for more than 20 years she was responsible for institutional research and planning. A committed member of Calvary AME Church, she was seeking to be more devoted in her spiritual walk and involved in the church. She was delighted, therefore, when the local seminary called to discuss joining the board. The president knew she was a well-respected lay person in her denomination and could help make important connections for fundraising and recruiting.
The seminary was preparing for a rigorous accreditation review, and it was woefully unprepared for new standards and expectations. Because of her professional background in higher education, Doris was assigned to the budget committee and the campus life committee, while the academic affairs committee muddled through discussions about accreditation -- a process she was quite familiar with. But her offers to help strategize about gathering and organizing data for the process were brushed off by the dean and president. They had pigeon-holed her into one role, while her talents were in another.
As Chait, Ryan, and Taylor noted in Governance as Leadership (which we reviewed in the Autumn 2005 issue of In Trust) board members are a source of organizational capital. They are often (and should be) invited to join a board to contribute their unique gifts. But sometimes they face preconceived ideas about their skills: lawyers are invited to contribute legal advice; accountants for auditing advice, etc.
But in the case above, Doris was seen in one role when she could have served the board in several capacities. Her two decades of experience related to research and planning were not only being overlooked, but they were actively discounted by seminary leadership.
When faced with new problems, presidents and board chairs should take a second look at who already serves on their boards and the hidden skills they may bring. This might include taking a second look at members' resumes or brainstorming with the board resource committee about committee assignments. But the most difficult task is to look beyond how certain members are perceived for other skills, talents and passions that will serve the institution well.