It’s best to have all types of people making up a nonprofit board.
A good board consists of people coming at problems from several different angles, creating a board of advisers who can successfully lead the institution toward a good path. You want full and fair discussion, and not people who are essentially “Yes” persons who go along with whatever someone proposes.
Every idea that comes up doesn’t need to see the continual light of day.
Let me tell you of one significant board member.
He was the late Bill Fields, who joined a board that I was once chairing, The Red and Black Publishing Company, which oversaw the operations of what was then the daily Red and Black newspaper at the University of Georgia. Mr. Fields was a perfect candidate for the board, I thought, since he had been for many years managing editor of The Atlanta Constitution. While the newspaper had an editor and a publisher, Mr. Fields was the top person in the newsroom. He had been a veteran of many years in leading this news team in producing a high-quality, newsy edition each day (something I miss today.)
When Bill began attending the quarterly meetings of the Red and Black Board, I was most pleased. But then I got worried. Bill was punctual in getting to the meetings, usually in Athens, and would also attend when we met at other places, in Atlanta, or on the coast, or at some other site in Georgia. We had a good board, and good attendance at the meetings.
Yet while at each meeting, Bill would listen carefully, but for his first few meetings never said anything to contribute to the ongoing discussion. He would not quiz anyone coming before our board. He gave nothing to the conversations. This went on for a year or more, and while he was good in attending, I began to worry about his participation. Was he bored? Was he not getting anything out of the proceedings? Why was he silent?
After all, you wanted each board member to contribute from their background. What could we do to engage him in our deliberations? I was wondering if he ever would open up and help the organization.
One day we had one particular idea tossed out with great gusto by a person on the board. The presentation lasted quite a while, and finally the person was through talking.
To my great surprise, Bill raised his hand. “Yes, Bill?” I said.
“That’s a dumb, damn idea,” Bill pronounced, and said no more.
Wow! Now I understood. Bill was paying attention all along. He was just a person of few words. And that crazy idea that had been before the board died quickly. Bill, indeed, was a good board member. He gave solid, thoughtful service in his own way.
We also remember something else about Mr. Fields. He usually left the newspaper office about 10 p.m. each night, after guiding the staff, and essentially knowing most every story that would appear in the next morning’s newspaper.
However, Bill once told us, nothing made him madder than to walk out on his driveway the next morning, and find that his Constitution had not been delivered. “I know, yes, I know of about every story that was going to be in that paper, but I just wanted to read it in my own paper the next day,” he said. “Nothing makes me madder than to miss my home delivery.”
It’s great to have people like Bill Fields in your memories.