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Board of Directors - The 3 (or 4) E's

There are lots of materials out there on the 3 'R's' of Board Membership: Recommendations/Relationships, Recruitment, and Retention. Check them out - very helpful. But, this article with lots of great info from California Community Theatre members focuses on the more nuanced parts of the three R's, and we're calling it the....three E's: Expectations, Education and Experience.



From the time that you've identified your Board Member to the time you've recruited him/her, you owe it to them and your theatre to lay out expectations. There is a reason you think this person is a good match for your organization: they can offer your theatre something it needs or lacks, from resources to leadership to connections to support. You have an expectation that their involvement in your theatre will help you. They have an expectation that they will be contributing (time, or money, or in-kind items, or a combo of any of those) to a worthwhile cause and will have the opportunity to be involved.

You have to start by making sure your proposed Board Member has something you need (skill, money, connections) to contribute. My experience is that it is best to have a spectrum of skills and assets. Once you have identified the right person it is important to make sure they have the time, opportunity, and willingness to actually work for the organization. And, as you bring them aboard it is VERY important to have a complete and accurate board packet which lays out what they organization is about and what you expect of that board member. - California Community Theatre Member

You can set expectations as large as from what you need from a member for a contribution of time or money, to all the way to the rules and expectations of a Board Meeting. You may need to take some time to establish a variety of expectations, if you don't have them in writing already. Brainstorming and creating a large 'perfect-world wish list' is a good practice to get the ball rolling. Nail down realistic expectations and solidify them with your Board President or a task force/committee within your Board. Create a living document with some of the folks in the positions already who can contribute to your needs as the leader of your theatre. Your expectations can be concrete (ie: 'Board Members are expected to attend 2-3 Opening Night performances each season') or suggestive (ie: 'Board Members are expected to actively participate in Board Meetings') but the more specific, the better (ie: 'Board Members are expected to both attend and contribute thoughts and responses during Board Meetings on a regular basis').

"Yes, we have very specific expectations and we communicate that clearly with a packet of information serious prospective board members get. Sometimes we lose prospective board members when they get that packet and realize that membership is a serious commitment. In those cases we try to encourage them to be involved with us in some of the many other ways there are to volunteer." - California Community Theatre Member

How will you know your expectations are being met?

Do you have a dedicated time to reflect upon your board members - as individuals and as an organization in and of itself? Do you have an assessment process in place? Likely your Board of Directors evaluates an Executive Director, Artistic Director, or other leaders in the organization on their performance. Do Board Members have any similar type evaluation?

Taking the time to stop and look at how things are going is a challenge in community theatre, where there is likely not a minute or a body to spare. But, it can be a vital tool in success and keeping you from working 'harder rather than smarter.' Assessing the progress of a Board does not have to be complicated, but it should be transparent. Once the expectations are outlined and each member knows of them before participating, explain that from time to time yourself (or another Board member, or an outside committee, etc) will be reviewing how those expectations are being met.

Perhaps it's even simpler and this document can be reviewed as a group quarterly at meetings. Board members can self-assess, and a more comprehensive document could be used only as necessary for a Board member who is deemed to be struggling to meet expectations. However you determine to execute the process, communicating the expectations and then reviewing them on a regular basis will likely make a big impact in the experience of your board (and in their support for your theatre).

We Ask, You Answer:

Do you have specific expectations for Board Members (i.e.: set amount of contribution, specific tasks they must complete, etc)?

With this newest board, new expectations along these lines are being discussed and hopefully, over the next year or two we will see this happen. Tasks for sure are being assigned.

Only expectation is a $50 star supporter donation and to attend monthly board meetings; of course, President, Secretary and Treasurer do have specific duties, but all of our board members have designated tasks related to the theatre.

Yes, but it should be spelled out before they accept the nomination.

Some, They are expected to work at least two performances in each show run as either house manager, bartender, concession and such.

Yes, most have a job within the theatre; required to pay $50.

Yes, to a limited extent. Several members were recruited to largely work in a specific areas; to wit, penetration of the school systems, examine new venue possibilities.

How do you communicate your expectations to new Board Members?

Via our open board meetings and our general membership meetings. Also, there is a general e-mail for all board members.

During board meetings.

On an individual basis, usually at Lunch to discuss personal strengths and time availability.

During recruiting pitch.

How do you assess whether your Board Members are meeting your expectations?

We do not as a group.

If they are getting their job done.

Oh, it is pretty easy to tell. Other board members start to get frustrated and ask polite questions about what people are working on.

"Usually if someone is not meeting our expectations it is because we did not do a good job of making sure their skill set was a fit for our needs." - California Community Theatre Member

Board meetings tell all. If the job is not done by a is evident.

By their active participation.

Through reports.


"I have some board members who are very well connected in the community and are able to garner support from important movers and shakers. Others are the hands and feet of the organization; they arrange for volunteers, organize committees and events etc. Others are good at asking for money. Some of my board members are major donors, some are not, they all contribute in a variety of ways.

- California Community Theatre Member



"I DO have a DYNAMITE board. Education is key."- California Community Theatre Member

You must provide the tools your Board Members need to succeed. These tools include packets of information, access to and info about your theatre (if they don't know already; though, even your most seasoned board member who has been an actor/volunteer for many years, still may not know the intricacies of your theatre's finance policies or position).

I believe in ongoing education for my board. We have had at least one board training per year. One training helped my board better understand the responsibilities of board and staff. One helped us refine our by-laws, mission/vision and organizational documents. Another helped us devise a 5 year strategic plan. All of the trainings were useful in creating a bond among the board members and a clear path forward for the organization. Nobody likes the meetings when we set them (time is precious!), but they are all happy with the outcomes." - California Community Theatre Member

We Ask, You Answer:

How do you educate your Board on your theatre's mission, practices and policies?

We don't.

For the first time in many years, all the board members have been given a copy of the bylaws and the policies and procedure and they are going over all of them. One- to understand them and Two- to see if we need to make changes.

Regular trainings and retreats.

The mission is fully discussed at Board meetings when proposing plays, events and other programming.

Meetings and repetition.

How do you help encourage and also challenge your Board of Directors to work with you (or your theatre leader) to reach the same goals?

The board members are the theatre leaders. Though they do need to set a strategic plan, an operating plan, then a business plan, and a case statement. In 49 years of operating, this has never been done to anybody's knowledge. We have a mission statement, bylaws, some old policies and have been flying by the seat of our pants since. Time to make ourselves more attractive to grants etc.

Our board is our theatre; no challenge necessary.

We hired a consultant to do a board retreat and develop a five year plan. We are nearing the end of year two. It is been very helpful to keep us focused on common goals.

We have a board that really needs no encouragement... they are willing, ready and able.

Including them in all decisions.



How do you give your Board Members an excellent experience? How do you make their time on your board fruitful, pleasant, fulfilling and also challenging and productive?

Part of your own leadership goals and involvement with the Board should include prioritizing providing experiences for your Board members. Your Board - as a whole, or individually - may or may not be involved in the day-to-day of your theatre. Be sure they are able to be involved - either occasionally or on a regular basis - in some of the general operations, processes, and routines (as well as job duties of any employees you might have). The same can be said for programs and events - not all of which your Board may have theatre or production experience. Perhaps allow Board members to attend the orientation day/meeting of a theatre camp, or sit in on a tech rehearsal or first read-through, as examples.

We Ask, You Answer:

What are some tips for providing a fulfilling experience for Board Members?

Set goals and FOLLOW UP, but also be sure that all board members understand deadlines and they are given all the tools needed for success. Never assign a task without the above. Never be vague.

we are a close knit group and our board members have been on board for 5 or more years.

"Make sure that you find the right ways for them to be involved, and to do that you have to know them. Sit down with them before they become board members and find out if they will be willing to sell advertising, group sales, write grants, work on financials, help with legal documents and issues, make connections to local service groups. What will their portfolio include? If that is clear then they are very likely to have a good experience because they will be doing important work for the organization that will be recognized both within and in the wider community. It feels good."

- California Community Theatre Member

Make sure your board task setting is fair and has buy-in by the board.


Trust them to do what you have asked, include them in theater activities.

What are some other activities (besides Board meetings) in which your Board participates?

How do you create great experiences for those activities?

The new board is being encouraged to attend ALL performances, support ALL outside events like our community outreach etc.

Participate in all functions.

Productions, events, fundraising, grant writing, promotion and on and on. Pleasant, productive and efficient meetings are a must. Don't wast people's time. Make sure you thank them and recognize the work they are doing.

"My board members can be asked to represent us at various city and neighborhood events."

- California Community Theatre Member

Some also serve as house volunteers during plays.

Overseeing summer drama camp.


You could add a fourth E here: Enthusiasm. Never underestimate the power of a dynamic leader for whom your board will follow and respect. Whether it's the Artistic Director, the Executive Director, the Board President, or another staff or Board member in a leadership role, a tone and expectation of enthusiasm and passion (combined with gratitude and respect for other participants) can pave the way for a wonderful experience and loyalty for other Board members, staff, and volunteers.

Are YOU that person?


We Ask, You Answer:

Who makes up your board? Are they community leaders or actors and creatives from only with your circle?

At this time they are within our circle and all are business or corporate types that have an interest in the theatre. Three of the six also have acted or directed. Our Treasurer was a banker and worked in the public arena, our President owned a successful ballet company for many years before moving here, our Member at Large managed a multi-million dollar milk distribution company, our Vice President is currently with an aircraft company in a management position, our Executive Director was once part of the creative team at Seattle Repertory Theatre, and finally our Secretary owned his own business after managing a large power company.

Some within community; others longtime theatre supporters.

"We encourage community leaders to join our board, and look for leaders who have a real enthusiasm for live theatre. Of course that group includes some that have past or current participation in community theatre." - California Community Theatre Member

Politically active community members.


Most have been on the board for over 5 years; mostly retired.

Do you think it best to recruit board members with various disciplines including business, banking, legal, etc. How/where do you identify new Board Members?

Yes. In the past, the board was all creatives or mostly until this year. We took a hard turn. I think it best we look at those with various disciplines and our board has begun to reflect that this year.

" all; we look at our season tickets holders and some business owners, bank managers etc

It is important to recruit people who have a passion for community theatre and who are well connected to our community in various ways." - California Community Theatre Member

Yes. There must be a balance to a board of those who understand what arts can do for a community and those who have power in the community to make changes. These can include business people BUT not business people who think of theater as a commodity. This last statement is why I think many community theater boards lean toward making cheap entertainment choices.. .and don't challenge their audiences.

Yes, we have had bankers, promoters, lawyers, teachers and business owners as well as artistic folk.

yes...getting to know season ticket holders and what they do or local business owners.

What are the challenges you face in recruiting Board Members?

In the past it has been is finding people with the skill-set to manage people and money.

Many too busy with other priorities.

"Finding people who are wiling to make the time commitment and who are really ready to bring the theatre to their daily work and social conversations. That is how connections are made that bring in donations, sponsorships, volunteers and all kinds of positive energy for the theatre."

- California Community Theatre Member

Managing a board is a job in and of itself. I have had trouble with board leaders expecting me to carry that load as well as produce great theater...

Finding the right fit for personality, motivation and commitment.

Many are too busy or on other boards.

Finding individuals with an interest in the arts, finding people with time.


"Current good board members beget future good board members. I see them bringing their friends and business associates to performances, that is the beginning of a relationship that can develop into a new board member. It is all about relationships."

- California Community Theatre Member


Thank you to all the California Community Theatres who contributed to this article.


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