The absolutely most important game a board member must play is ‘follow the leader.’ In my last post series on “The 3 Ways We Go Wrong Asking Nonprofit Boards to Help Raise Funds” I spoke of the unique job board members have as role models. A growing body of research shows that human beings are, first and foremost, social creatures. We use the brains of others to think for us and as storage space for our knowledge about the world. In considering whether and how to get involved with any nonprofit, people will look first to the board for guidance.
If we really want to change things we need to understand how people behave. It was Aristotle himself who first described humans as “social animals,” and indeed his observation from 350 B.C. has been borne out by the field of evolutionary anthropology. According to the authors of I’ll Have What She’s Having: Mapping Social Behavior, we are a ‘we’ species, not a ‘me’ species. People tend not to think for themselves; they follow the lead of others whom they respect and admire. We are products of a herd mentality.
It turns out that influencers have tremendous power and clout. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point, Duncan Watts in a series of publications on social networks, Nicholas Christakis in Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, and Stanley Milgram who developed the notion of “Six Degrees of Separation” (though he did not use that phrase himself) teach us that networks matter, and that some folks within networks are more influential than others. These are the folks we want to bring onto our boards. And these are the folks we want to be sure will use their influence on our behalf.
Influencers influencing; this is the most important role board members can play for our organization.