An Intentional Approach to Land Trust Board Development

Presented by Henrietta Jordan
Trailmarker Associates
What if the board you serve on
was THE board that
transformed the organization,
that took it to a new level of
effectiveness, that future
boards looked back on and
said, “that was the board that
made all the difference”?
Board development =
the creation of a
highly effective
board of directors.
What are the
attributes of a
highly effective
A highly effective land trust board
understands that its role is to govern
the organization through the creation
and implementation of good policies
and the making of sound decisions
that advance the land trust’s mission.
Board members come to
board meetings prepared to
have substantive discussions
and make decisions in a
thoughtful and deliberative
They are active between meetings
as committee members,
task/project leaders, volunteers,
fundraisers, and ambassadors
for their organizations.
If they have staff,
they work in partnership with
the executive director,
providing vision, guidance,
direction, and
financial resources.
They recruit and engage
new board members
who represent the
community the land trust
serves and provide them
with the training and
experiences they need to
assume leadership roles in
the organization.
They have outgrown their
dependence on the founder
and share responsibility for
building institutional
knowledge, setting direction,
planning, and evaluating
programs and their own
performance as a board.
They operate with
transparency and
scrupulously manage
conflicts of interest and
conflicts of loyalty.
They are curious, open to
challenges and differences
of opinion, flexible, and
committed to the
well-being of the
organization and the
achievement of its goals.
They are willing to risk
trying new things and
things they didn’t think
they’d want to do, like
fundraising, negotiating
with landowners, public
speaking, and writing
grant applications.
They understand that just as
a land trust is a steward of
land, they are stewards of
their organization.
They plan for their own
succession and intentionally
create a foundation of
effectiveness for future
Other attributes?
How do we build a board
like that?
First things first.
Make building an effective
board your top priority.
If you can accomplish this
primary goal, realizing all
your other ones will be a
piece of cake
Assess where you are now:
board self-evaluation and
board member self-evaluation.
Set goals for board
development, just as you
set goals for programs and
Assign responsibility for
board development to a
and don’t saddle its
members with too many
other jobs.
Develop a board member
job description that
clearly states your
expectations for
meeting attendance,
committee work, training,
and financial support.
Develop a board manual with
organizational history, board and staff directory,
bylaws, statement of vision & values, goals and
plan, description of programs and conserved
lands, budget info, description of funding
sources, minutes of board meetings for the past
6 months or so, policies and procedures,
information on Land Trust Alliance, MLTN, and
the Learning Center, and outreach info such as
brochure, newsletter, recent press articles, links
to website and social media.
Prune dead wood.
If they’re not accomplishing
they’re probably looking for
an exit anyway.
Bring in new members
who represent the
community you’re trying
‘to serve.
Other ideas?
Where do we
find those
new board members?
Ask: Why would they
want to engage
with your organization?
Young parents –
activities for kids.
Schoolteachers –
educational programs.
New residents –
want to get involved in
the community
and meet people.
Hiking, birding, fishing,
other outdoor groups
who have a stake in
what you’re doing.
Environmentally conscious
residents concerned about
saving open space/preserving
community character/protecting
water quality/sequestering
carbon/promoting local foods
and farms, etc.
Church groups – people
interested in
“creation care.”
College and university
GIS mapping,
community and urban planning,
environmental policy,
natural resource planning and
conservation, agriculture, etc.
Singles – looking for a
social outlet and
to meet people.
Other ideas?
Board members
want to feel that their
time is well-spent.
The most important tool
you can give them:
information necessary
for good decision-making.
The “how” as well
as the “what”:
bylaws, board manual,
policies, guidelines, etc.
In the agenda:
“Board action needed. . . ”
Committee reports
in writing.
“What are you asking me
to do?”
(i.e. review, comment,
decide, advise?)
In-service mini-trainings
Opportunities to
go to Rally
Other ideas?
Financial literacy:
All board members need to be
able to read and understand the
budget, the statement of
activities (profit/loss) and the
statement of financial position
(balance sheet).
Assume they don’t
know and provide an
annual in-service on
financial statements.
Develop accounting
procedures that
provide for sufficient
segregation of duties—
and follow them.
Review the audit (or
financial review) and
Form 990 carefully and
ask questions!
Fiduciary responsibility
means YOU are the
watchdog. If you don’t
understand, ask
Land conservation literacy
All board members need to
understand why and how they
undertake conservation
projects and what the land
trust’s ongoing stewardship
responsibilities are.
Training (and policy):
Using project selection criteria
Exercising due diligence in investigating
potential projects
Legally sound transactions
Understanding IRS and state
requirements, stewardship and defense
• Baseline documentation
• Monitoring conservation
restrictions and preserves
• Enforcing conservation restrictions
• Amending conservation restrictions
• Developing management plans for
fee properties
• Resolving fee property issues such
as trespass, dumping, ATVs, etc.
Personnel management literacy
Job descriptions
Personnel policies
Supervision and
evaluation of the
executive director
Understanding of
federal and state
labor laws and
fair employment
Understanding of payroll taxes,
unemployment compensation,
workers comp, & disability
insurance requirements
Establishing appropriate
(salary, benefits, etc.)
Planning literacy
What do you need for a
strategic plan?
A Cadillac or a Ford?
Ford = 3-5 year plan with
history of organization,
mission, vision, goals, and
strategies. Action steps for
each strategy with “point
person” and timetable.
Annual workplans for board,
committees, staff
Process for evaluating, fine-tuning
Managing conflict
We all bring our “stuff”
wherever we go.
“Board members behaving
badly” – an inevitable
growing pain of an
President or chair MUST
“Let’s have lunch”
Pay more attention to the
folks who are pulling their
weight and doing the work
than to those who are only
What do your bylaws say?
The process of “firing”
a dysfunctional board member
will be painful but the
sweet peace that follows
makes it all worth it.
Now what?
What will YOU do first
to make your board more
You CAN have the
board you would love
to be a member of!

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