Part two of a three part series
The turnover of top leadership at our historically Black colleges and universities is often “blamed” on the president. “They didn’t deliver,” is what we are asked to understand as the reason for early termination of a contract, or an unwillingness to renew a contract. The formal words may be different, but at the core the issue is often that the institution faces challenges and the board of trustees doesn’t believe the current president can solve them. But what one person could? The challenges facing our HBCUs are many and they require the engagement of many to resolve. In part one of this series we focused on the lack of resources at most HBCUs and changing leadership requirements. We continue the conversation with a highlight on the role of the board of trustees and the importance of niche.
- Board of trustees. While business, nonprofit, and educational leaders are known to complain about “my board,” the challenges at an HBCU can be dire. It is the board of trustees who selects and evaluates the president, and that is the “make it or break it” decision for the college. First the institution has to attract a pool of qualified applicants. Believe it or not the composition of the board impacts whether or not top candidates will apply or accept an offer. Our experience has shown that challenges arise when the board lacks diversity: yes, that means including board members who are not African American and a healthy gender balance. It also means the board must include people of power, wealth and influence with diverse expertise, relationships, and resources. The board has to give financially in a meaningful way and open doors for the president. And, the board has to offer a competitive compensation package: if you are looking for top notch talent you have to pay for it. This is true not only of the president, but of academic leadership, faculty, research, administration, and staff compensation. As a board you cannot delegate financial responsibilities to the president and expect that person to wave a magic wand: the board has to be an integral part of all solutions.
- Niche. Each institution needs to define its vision, mission and uniqueness. Historical status is not enough in today’s competitive educational market. Top leadership has to know and communicate the institution’s niche internally across campus constituencies, and externally amongst stakeholders, funders, donors, and partners. Ideally the niche builds on current or historical strengths, addresses current and future needs at the local, national, and global levels, and meets a need in the educational marketplace/ecosystem. The institution’s uniqueness should be embraced by all stakeholders and should inform its business, strategic, and fundraising plans.
Part three will focus on questions that current and potential presidents should ask of themselves, and those that trustees should ask themselves.
Copyright 2019 – Mel and Pearl Shaw
When you are ready to build a fund development program, grow your fundraising, or increase board engagement we are here to help. (901) 522-8727. www.saadandshaw.com.
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