A Board That Marches to the Beat of its Own Drummer

Sophistication is a relative concept, one difficult to quantify.The Shore Line TrolleyMuseum (SLTM) is a 1,000 member organization dedicated to the historic preservation of American trolley transit heritage. There exists no professional staff, so within the three traditional Board functions of: policy, management/fiduciary oversight, philanthropy/fundraising, the Trustees provide requisite staff tasks in order to keep the Museum as a vibrant, going concern.

In the area of policy, the Board executes staff functions within the context of addressing
urgent organizational needs. This may be referred to as “living micro policy”,
where decisions and actions taken are relevant to the current priority needs of the
organization. Though this ‘living micro policy” may be viewed as less sophisticated than
traditional “macro policy” found in a typical corporate culture, it works for the Museum,
as it serves as a functioning means toward an end.

In the area of management/fiduciary oversight, with the Board functioning as both
staff and volunteer leadership, the issue to separate management and policy is a moot
one. A seamless Board-staff integration result in the Board’s having total ownership of
management steps that ensure fulfillment of SLTM’s mission. Is this not the goal of
the most sophisticated and complex organizations- to affect Board buy in? Perhaps the
Museum Board’s dual function here is a departure to the norm, but to sound a familiar
theme, it works. So the question is raised: with positive outcomes, is this the mark of an
unsophisticated organization?

And finally, in the area of philanthropy/fundraising, the Board has launched a
modestly successful fundraising program. Through its annual appeal, it raises funds
for operations; through special appeals, it raises fund for restricted projects. However,
with the Museum’s decision to launch its first ever capital campaign to build facilities to
protect its precious collection of trolleys from eventual flooding, the Board had the savvy
and sophistication to engage a professional fundraising firm.

Upon engagement as counsel for its Capital campaign, it was readily apparent that the Board lacked both giving and fundraising
capacity normally found in a not for profit. Accordingly, the tactic of  an

aggressive initiative to build philanthropic strength from the “outside-in”. Hence,

rather than following the traditional route of building financial support from the Board
and its peer relations, financial support and campaign leadership is being sought from
persons outside of the organization, whose values align strongly with the purpose and
mission of the Museum. This represents an “out of the box” strategy for an “out of the
box” organization. However, in its sophistication, the Board recognizes that this is a
sound pathway and has endorsed the firm’s strategy enthusiastically.

So to the naked eye, the way in which the SLTM Board executes dual roles of policy and
staff may strike one as being unsophisticated. However, mere empirical observation
may be misleading when considering that, in marching to the beat of its own drummer,
its pathway of a “living, micro policy” has yielded efficiencies, significant buy in and, the
sophistication to recognize its short comings in the fundraising arena and thus embrace
an “outside-in” strategy for its campaign.

Indeed, portions of SLTM’s leadership model may be viewed by some like- organizations
as sophisticated best practices, worthy of replication.


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