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Three Keys to Effective Governance: Who Serves on the Club Board?

Governance in private clubs can too often resemble what is seen on the evening news: factions, resentment, distrust, skepticism and cynicism. In good times, and especially in troubled times, sound governance is essential.

Board Composition

The starting point to sound governance is assembling a board that can properly represent the membership and bring different perspectives to the boardroom. Boards that are neither representative of the membership nor reflective of their surrounding community risk losing the opportunity both to serve their current members and to attract new members. Different perspectives may stem from different genders, races, ages, areas of interest and more. Be intentional about developing a diverse profile of board members and ensure that your board policies support an environment where different ideas are welcomed, not discouraged. 

Avoiding the Status Quo

The second key to effective governance is not settling for the status quo. Most people join private clubs to be around people like themselves: people who look, talk and think as they do and who represent a similar socio-economic stratum. As a result, when clubs look to elect new board members, they tend toward candidates of a similar background or mindset. 

In its day, this approach may have seemed innocent enough, even well-intentioned. But in the context of a changing economic climate, its execution can reduce the board’s openness to new ideas and hinder its ability to govern effectively. Directors become beholden to those who invite them into the boardroom and tend to side with their benefactors’ views on how the club should be operated and governed. Consistently aligning decisions with longer-tenured board members can lead to organizational inertia such that the status quo is the default option. If your board is not trying to make the club better and tends to default to the status quo, not only will it not advance, it will probably retreat. 

Selection Criteria

The third factor to governing effectively is board selection criteria. Members want to know how people get on the board and what skills and the selection criteria are at work. It is critical that clubs be transparent about board selection criteria so that members understand the rules and have an opportunity to serve their club as a board member.

Boards deliberate as many—differences of opinion are welcome in the board room—but they govern as one.