Jennifer Ford Reedy

Note from Jen: Cultivating our board of directors

April 23, 2019

I am excited about our announcement of two new Bush Foundation board members!

They are now stewards of the Bush Foundation legacy, as part of a lineage of board members dating back to Archie Bush himself.

The nature of the relationship between board and staff at the Foundation is a critical determinant of our effectiveness. We have a fabulous group of board members who are smart and engaged and improve virtually every idea we as staff bring to them. (And any time I bring something I know has a weak spot they inevitably see and poke at it! It's uncanny.) I wrote a learning paper a while back with our former Board Chair Pam Moret on how we work to keep board and staff aligned that you can read here.

On this occasion of announcing our new board members, I wanted to highlight one small part of that learning paper: how seriously we take board member recruitment. It is a continuous effort for us. At any given time our board's Governance Committee has a list of 10 or so prospects under active consideration, whether we have openings or not. The Bush Foundation has a programmatic focus on leadership and we know and admire hundreds and hundreds of terrific leaders around the region. The trick is figuring out which ones of them are the best possible Bush Foundation board members.

We know that just because someone is amazing at something else — like being a visionary CEO or an inspiring artist or a trailblazing entrepreneur — doesn't mean they will be a great board member at the Bush Foundation. Even if someone is amazing as a board member at another organization, it doesn't mean they will be a great board member at the Bush Foundation. Like every organization, we have a distinct board culture and particular ways of working. We've worked hard to be very specific about what kinds of mindsets and skillsets we are looking for in board members. We've created a list of traits and attributes that we want to be true of EVERY Bush Foundation board member. You can read what we've developed below.

This list of traits and behaviors is the cornerstone of our board member recruitment process. We use this exact set of attributes to do quiet reference checks on candidates before we ever have a conversation with them about board service. This due diligence has caused us to not pursue a number of prospects who we know are amazing leaders and wonderful people, but we learn are not good fits for this particular board role. It has been extremely helpful.

And, outside of the traits and behaviors we are looking for in all board members, we want to maximize the diversity of perspectives on the board. We've tried to identify the most critical differences that matter in our context — like race and geography and sector. We have a board composition plan with specific goals to ensure diversity on those dimensions — like making sure we have people from both eastern and western North Dakota. We've also identified specific perspectives we want to have more of on the board — like having more people with experience as an immigrant and more people who are politically conservative. These goals guide us in searching for good prospective board members throughout the region who both exemplify the traits and behaviors we are looking for in all board members and add to our diversity.

As the President of the Bush Foundation, our 15 board members are my bosses. It could not be more important to me that we have board members who are engaged and committed to the success of the Bush Foundation, who will make us stronger in bringing different perspectives and pushing our thinking. We put a ton of time into board cultivation and I think it is worth every minute!



These are the attributes we are looking for in every Bush Foundation board member:                                      

  • We are looking for people who are inspired by the mission and committed to the values of the Bush Foundation. 
  • We are looking for people who are great leaders. Since we do so much with leadership development, we want our board members to exemplify effective leadership. It could be leadership in any area, but we want people who are considered by others to be great leaders and people who have a demonstrated commitment to supporting and developing other leaders
  • We are looking for people who understand what it takes to do community change work. Either through their job or through volunteer work, we want people who understand how difficult and how complex social change can be. We want people with high expectations who are optimistic about change but also realistic about what patience and persistence is required. 
  • We are looking for people who have personal and professional networks that complement the Foundation’s existing network, and are willing to open them up to the Foundation so that we can expand our reach. 
  • We are looking for people who are able to think at the systems level, who can lift up and see the big picture on an issue rather than just operating at the tactical level. We want board members who can focus on governance rather than management, and leave the execution of strategy to staff. 
  • We are looking for open-minded and thoughtful people who can consider issues from all perspectives, who are not ideological or entrenched in their mindset. 
  • We are looking for people who demonstrate cultural humility, who are open and interested in the backgrounds and perspectives of others, who continuously seek to better understand themselves and how to adapt to work and connect well with others. 
  • We are looking for people who are humble and can get excited about supporting the ideas and the efforts of others. We are fundamentally about supporting the capacity of other people and organizations to lead change. 
  • We are looking for people with enough board experience and enough confidence to speak up and effectively share their perspective in a group of very smart people with some strong personalities. We want board members who demonstrate a good balance of active listening and making their own contributions to discussion. 
  • We are looking for people who have demonstrated in other civic/volunteer activities that they commit the time and effort to be a prepared and engaged board member and are excited and ready to commit to serving on the Bush Foundation board.