Are Boards Worth the Trouble?

Last week at the BoardSource conference,  I was set up to do a debate against the funny and brilliant Bill Ryan, with whom I almost always agree. The topic was “are boards worth the trouble?”

He took the con side and I took the pro side. It was actually a great debate. Why? Because Bill said many of the things about why boards were clearly not worth the trouble that everyone thinks at some point, and few people actually say. In the end, I won the debate (yes!) but only because I kind of guilt tripped people and also told them about my theory of governance as it relates to refrigerator bins.

The theory goes like this: I asked people to raise their hands if they had a refrigerator and then if they governed their refrigerator. They, naturally, were pretty confused but I continued, saying that I buy vegetables and put them in the proper bin where they settle down for the long haul and when I say settle down, I mean settle down. I use all the stuff I can see on the refrigerator shelves, but by the time I go into the bin to figure out what the heck is making it impossible to open the refrigerator door without wanting to abandon the property, the organic matter inside has mutated – in the worst case scenario it has grown fur and is walking around kind of buzzing.

In other words, left to my own devices, I am incapable of governing my refrigerator. My daughter is outraged by my lack of vigilance in this regard but – c’mon! I forgot it was there! That is why I need others around me, especially when I have some responsibility for something that is meant to serve the needs and interests of others.

I realize that all this may be TMI, but my point is that when we are helping to lead something complex, many of us get very focused on one realm, while another realm shape shifts inside the bin where we don’t normally look. This is why we need a group to provide the level and diversity of challenges that a nonprofit needs to keep itself true to its constituents.

Anyway, that was my argument.

But we would like to hear your arguments for or against. What do you think? Are boards worth the trouble?