Economic development organizations play a crucial role in maximizing economic prosperity for the communities they serve. To thrive in today’s innovation economy and fulfill their mission, EDOs must have effective governance and oversight. A well-structured board of directors is the cornerstone of organizational success, offering guidance, support and accountability to the EDO and its CEO.
Drawing from my experience reporting to EDO boards, serving as a director and establishing new boards, I have noted several best practices that every EDO should adopt to enhance the board’s effectiveness and, consequently, that of the EDO itself:
- Board composition: EDO boards often consist of public officials, professional service providers and economic-development allies. However, it is essential to have strong representation from the businesses or industries the EDO aims to attract, expand or support. This inclusivity helps an EDO understand and prioritize the customer perspective versus its internal assumptions or opinions.
- Comprehensive agendas: Providing board members with meeting agendas, resource materials and specific topics for discussion in advance fosters preparation and engagement. This practice enables productive and informed conversations during board meetings.
- Punctuality: Organizations that struggle to start board meetings on time often lack the discipline required to fulfill their mission effectively. Punctuality also demonstrates respect for board members’ valuable time and sets an example of professionalism for staff in attendance.
- Vision and mission: Commencing each board meeting with a brief review of the organization’s guiding statements keeps the board and its members acutely focused on the EDO’s purpose. This practice cultivates a sense of direction and purpose, preventing discussions from deviating off course or the organization becoming misaligned with its core reason for existence.
- Active listening: Board meetings should serve as opportunities for the CEO and staff to garner advice and input from experienced business and community leaders. Unfortunately, too many EDO meetings are dominated by staff reporting on the latest projects, leaving insufficient time to seek guidance and advice. If staff members are doing most of the talking, it raises concerns about the effectiveness of the board and organization.
- Executive session: Concluding each board meeting with an executive-session period, excluding staff and the CEO, allows board members to address potentially sensitive issues critical to the organization’s fulfillment of its mission and goals. This designated time ensures open dialogue and constructive feedback can occur regularly.
When EDOs are organized and governed well, they possess the potential to drive community prosperity for generations to come. Although board governance may not be the most captivating topic, it is undeniably critical if we and our communities are genuinely committed to economic development success.
Whether your EDOs adopt the recommendations outlined or others, it is imperative that they operate at maximum performance. Establishing effective governance is foundational to doing so.
— John Moore is a principal with Momenteum Strategies, an Upstate-based consulting firm specializing in helping communities and their economic development organizations build thriving, impactful innovation ecosystems.