Do you need a board matrix?

The question of board matrices came up this week on the Boards listserve at

I’m sure you’ve seen them… cookie cutter spreadsheets that list particular expertise or professions like “lawyer” “accountant” etc.

I use a different type of matrix, one that is both “generic” and also specifically tailored to the needs of the organization with whom I’m working.

The generic part has four categories that I do believe belong in each matrix:

1. Attributes



4. Connections

Attributes are characteristics of individuals that lead to the types of diversity that you are seeking on your board. Attributes might include age, gender, race/ethnicity, geography, profession, socio-economic status, sexual orientation or identity, religion, political persuasion, etc. Your organization should decide what attribute diversity is strategic to your board and go out and recruit it.

But, you should never bring a board member on for an attribute alone. There isn?t anything inherent about a particular attribute that makes for a good board member. Attributes are icing on the cake, providing different perspectives that help raise questions that your board might never have thought to ask.

But they need to supplement the two other factors of knowledge/expertise and competencies.

Your board may need particular types of knowledge. For example, I happen to think that every board can benefit from having a few individuals with expertise in nonprofit governance and nonprofit finances. Not that I?d want to leave all decision to those individuals, but they experience can help steer the board in the right direction. But you?ll want other expertise as well that is specific to your organization and to the board value-added need to achieve your strategic objectives.

For a humanities council, it might be very helpful to have scholars in the humanities. You may want content expertise around entrepreneurship, social services, research or evaluation. Or operational expertise around fundraising, planning, organization development or project management. Depending on the size of your staff, you may need particular board members or committees to assume staff roles and thus you?d want the expertise needed to complete those tasks.

Ultimately, however, you want your full board to develop particular competencies as a board. Competencies are what you ultimately need to execute successfully. What good is great knowledge if you don?t know how to use it?

Each board should determine what competencies it is seeking to create. They might include a strong mission & values lens, accountability, connecting/spanning, strategic thinking, ethical behavior, etc. To achieve your competencies will certainly require a manner of acting that practices and reinforces the competency. But it can be enhanced by recruiting individuals who happen to have highly developed competencies in those areas to help guide the rest of the board in the right direction.

Another thing to consider is what audiences or resources you’d like board members to help you connect to. Perhaps you’d like deeper ties with faith communities. Or academia. Or business leadership. Board members can help introduce you to others in their community.

A caution about connections. Too many organizations make the mistake of recruiting board members because of their connections and just assume that because someone has connections they’ll be willing to use them for the advancement of your organization. Big mistake. Ask “one of the reasons we are interested in bringing you on the board is because we would like to build stronger connections with [whatever] community. Is that something you would be willing to help us with?”

So, my matrices always start with the categories attributes, knowledge/expertise, connections and competencies and then fill in the details tailored for that specific organization at that specific place in time.

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