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“How many of your current board members are actually worth paying? If you had to pay your members what board positions would you fund?” These questions caught our eye as we read a promotional piece for a book about philanthropy.

The author, Jimmy LaRose poses some provocative thoughts in his book Re-Imagining Philanthropy.  He promotes the idea that boards are not about governance, visioning, policy-making, volunteerism, or management. He believes these roles should be filled by a strong CEO. He advocates for a board of six experts who cover the areas of law, communications and marketing, entrepreneurship and  accounting. They should be joined by an expert in your area of programming and a nonprofit expert. That’s it! Their role – in LaRose’s opinion – is to fulfill obligations related to IRS compliance. The rest of the roles attributed to board members –he believes – can be filled be advisors.

Reading the promo piece triggered a major question for us: how would an executive director and staff prepare for a board meeting knowing that board members were being $1,000/day plus travel expenses (LaRose’s idea). How would the board chair and the board members prepare? Would the level of preparation required by all parties increase? What items would be on the agenda? How would the time be used during the meeting, and what type of follow up would occur?

Would you pay your board members to attend a board meeting? Would you pay them to participate in a teleconference? What would you expect in return? Are your expectations tied to compensating board members for their time? Are you uncomfortable asking board members to bring their expertise to the table without pay? If yes, why do you feel that way? If you are a board member, do you treat your board responsibilities differently from your professional obligations? Do you bring your “A game” to board meetings?

Here are a few other questions. Do you believe the board should determine the vision, or should that be decided by the executive? In general terms, do you operate with a strong executive or a strong board?  Who is setting direction for your institution or organization? Does it make a difference?

In our experience the relationship between the board and the executive is an important one. We believe that ideally power should be shared with accountability and transparency as core values. Related to this we know that many small colleges and grassroots organizations face challenges related to sustainability. The suggestions made by LaRose are not necessarily the right remedy, but we also know that many organizations don’t have the right balance between the executive and board. At times each party points the finger at the other, and too often neither one has the ability to secure the resources required for excellence. What are your thoughts? What is the way forward?

Disclaimer: we haven’t read Re-Imagining Philanthropy and are not endorsing it.

Copyright 2017 – Mel Shaw and Pearl Shaw, CFRE

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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