At the start of a breakout session presentation I gave last month for Leadership Tallahassee’s recent Building Better Boards summit, I showed Facebook’s new emojis. Instead of their intended meanings, however, I had labeled each with a caption describing the range of emotions that nonprofit executive directors have for their board members. Each emoji evoked laughter and “I can relate!” looks from executive directors and board members alike.
This was all done tongue in cheek, of course. Facebook didn’t intend the emojis to apply to board members. But like any humor, it’s funny because it holds a sliver of truth. Every board has that one board member who makes nonprofit life just a little more interesting.
In my consulting work I often find that boards have a “20/60/20” composition. That is, 20% of board members are superstars. They are proactive people who will often initiate activity without prompting, and then effectively see things through. The 60% in the middle are often “living dead or walking wounded”. These are generally good board members, all things considered, but not every board member can be relied upon to complete every responsibility. As an executive director working with these folks, you take what you can get. The 20% at the other end are usually either on the wrong board or else they once were strong but their better days are now behind them. This is the group for which board member term limits were mercifully invented.
Here are the six emojis and their meaning as applied to nonprofit board members.
- I Like This Board Member. The first emoji represents the most common type of board member by far. They are the bread and butter of board membership. While they are typically Living Dead or Walking Wounded, they can sometimes be found among the superstars or the bottom 20%.
- I Love This Board Member. Like that one great golf shot that keeps you going back, these are the board members we live for. Almost always among the superstars, they give wings to the dream that is nonprofit excellence.
- I Laugh With This Board Member. Usually paired with a “Like” or a “Love”, some board members can be counted upon to bring levity to any situation. Whether they are the “Class Clown” that lightens up a board meeting or the “Trusted Confidant” who helps a besieged executive director cope, every board needs a few members worthy of earning this emoji.
- Oh No. Not This Board Member! This emoji reminds us that volunteer management can be full of surprises. Frequently used by executive directors thrust into the first of Kubler-Ross’s Seven Stages of Grief, this “Shock and Denial” emoji represents board members who may previously have been considered a “Love”, and who were never expected to take the position they did, or to do or not do whatever they did or did not do.
- Why This Board Member? Depression often sets in after the shock has worn off. That’s when this emoji is most appropriate. It represents the deep sadness of having hoped that this board member – This. One. – would be the answer to an executive director’s prayers. By the time this emoji is ascribed to a board member, all hope has been abandoned.
- Never Again With This Board Member. When acceptance finally sets in, executive directors often tuck the experience away in their “lessons learned” file and resolve not to let themselves get into this position with a board member again. Fortunately these experiences are few and far between. But when they happen, they hurt.
As noted previously, this set of emojis is presented with tongue firmly planted in cheek. There is a lesson here, however, and that is this: Board members are people too, and a nonprofit organization’s success depends upon the quality of the relationships between the executive director and his or her board members, and between the board members themselves. In this great nonprofit partnership, we live together and we laugh together. But most importantly we love together. We love the mission we signed up to serve, and we love the people for whom that mission means so very much. Relationships are more often than not the key to our success.