HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Work, Wisdom, and Wealth: Creating New Opportunities for Board Members

by Dr. Janice Johnson Issue: Board Leadership

“How wonderful it is that nobody needs to wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”
Anne Frank (1929-1945)

How right, in so many ways, was Anne Frank – even in the responsibility of day school Boards and Board leadership. This article focuses on three traditional elements of Board service – Work, Wisdom and Wealth – and attempts to illustrate how day school Boards can stretch beyond the expected “3 W’s” to levels that inspire each of us to think about how we can improve our day school world. It asks how we as day schools can move beyond the basic definitions of work, wisdom, and wealth so that we create new opportunities for our Board members – opportunities that create exceptional value and that dramatically advance our mission.

Work: Board members work as advocates and ambassadors for the school, serving to enhance its awareness, reputation, and capacity through social and professional events and activities. Board members work to cultivate partnerships and collaborations between others and the school. Board members dedicate their time to further the school’s mission. The school’s Board work is deemed meaningful and important. It is more than attending regularly scheduled Board meetings or making appearances at school events. It is about believing deeply in the school, its mission, its purpose. It involves making the commitment to participate actively, to hold oneself accountable to the success of the school and to believe that the work one does makes not just a measurable difference, but a profound one.

Wisdom: Each Board member brings a unique and important set of skills, talents, and expertise that keeps the school aligned to its mission. However, the wisdom each Board member brings to the table is more than this. Skills and talents help Boards accomplish goals, but it is the deeper level of Board member wisdom that informs vision. This wisdom is essential in the Board’s role as visionary leaders. The wisdom of each Board member allows the Board to function as one body in charge of the “big picture.” The wisdom of each Board member provides the diversity and inclusion necessary for a comprehensive process that ultimately leads to solid, one-voice decisions.

Wealth: Board members actively participate in meeting the school’s financial needs. This includes personal giving, getting, and all aspects of fund raising. Board members have untapped fundraising potential. In addition to traditional forms of giving and getting, we need to ask Board members to think about and explore “outside-the-school-lunch box” ways to produce significantly larger returns on annual giving events, capital campaigns, and endowments. Board members can participate in creating a school portfolio that diversifies and maximizes sustainable revenue sources. Board members should be valued not only for making the school a personal philanthropic priority but also for participating in the school’s fundraising process.

It is our Board members’ passion for our school that turns donors from “outsiders” to “insiders.” As Helen A. Colson explains in her fall 2006 NAIS article, “The Board’s Role in Development,” “an outsider may be aware of a need; an insider is committed to meeting it.” Board members provide potential donors with the passion, the value, the meaning, and the connection. Board members can extend the reach of the school by actively using their own reputations and networks to secure funds, expertise, and access.

Why is this important? Day school Boards with a reputation of completing meaningful work, providing a wide range of wisdom, and gaining sustainable wealth create the passion and support schools need to achieve success. School success is measured by increased student enrollment and financial sustainability. One indicator of Board success is a waiting list of Board member candidates due to a Board’s reputation for doing meaningful work. Stretching beyond the basic “3 W’s” by creating opportunities for passionate, inspirational, and meaningful Board member contributions will increase student enrollment and financial sustainability.

How is this accomplished? As heads of schools, we each need to look inward and ask ourselves to take a reflective and honest look at our relationship with each Board member and ask, “Have I, as head of school, cultivated a relationship and provided the support and information necessary for each Board member to work in the manner described above? Do I model the passion, commitment, and work ethic I aspire for all Board members? Do I actively demonstrate to each Board member that I value and respect the volunteer hours each dedicates to the school?” Heads of schools need to provide a vision of what is possible and a means to add lasting value to the school’s Board members who serve. We need to share a passion for our communities and constituents. We need constantly to seek to create value.

Anne Frank gently reminds us of our freedom in giving our work, wisdom, and wealth toward improving the world. Our day school world needs us to stretch beyond the norm, inspiring Board members to make our school their top priority and passion. May we all create opportunities for Board members that dramatically advance our mission. ♦

Dr. Janice Johnson is Head of School at Jess Schwartz Jewish Community High School in Phoenix, AZ. Dr. Johnson can be reached at jjohnson@jessschwartz.org

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Board Leadership

The role of a board is to lead—to formulate and clarify mission and policies, raise, oversee and manage funds, hire, supervise, support and collaborate with the head, all through the lens of Jewish wisdom. This issue provides guidance for day schools to find the right leaders to serve on the board, and to strengthen their leadership while they are serving.

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