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President’s Corner – Creating Your Personal Board

patton-mcdowellfeatFirm president, Patton McDowell, is known for his strong coaching and facilitation skills. If you have heard him speak, then you know that he also has a passion for professional development within organizations, teams and individuals. As Patton McDowell & Associates focuses on Talent Acquisition & Retention this month with our Innovation Series, Patton shares his personal insights on how to enhance your professional development with a personal board of directors.

“As nonprofit professionals and consultants, we are familiar with the governance, leadership and enthusiasm that come with a board of directors. This diverse group of people brings different skills, knowledge expertise and influence to an agency that staff, volunteers and donors may not be able to access. When considering your own professional development, what if you changed your paradigm by seeing yourself as more than an individual? What is you saw yourself as a business? Just as agencies and organizations contemplate bringing talent together to guide others, why not use this same principle as an individual?

april2013presidentscorner“If the company is you, then what type of advice and talent would you want to assemble to guide you through the professional journeys ahead? Building your own personal board can not only enhance your support base but also strengthen your leadership with a broader perspective. A small to medium-sized group can serve as mentors, places of expertise and sounding boards for your professional journey. Below are three items to ponder as you begin to build your own board.


“Boards for nonprofits usually require a group of people with different expertise and experience. In your personal board, what makeup of board members might you need? Consider these four areas:

  1. Subject matter expertise. Look for individuals who serve in similar roles as your current one and also individuals who fill the roles to which you aspire. If you are a major gifts officer, then who is the best major gifts officer you know? Maybe a Director of Development or Director of Advancement could offer some fresh insight. Who could lend advice and expertise in this field as the journey unfolds for you?
  2. Aspirational leaders. Find the individuals who have achieved the goals that you have set for yourself. If you aspire to become an Executive Director, then find some Executive Directors who are willing to share their experiences with you on how they achieved this role. Do you have a friend who could open this door for you?
  3. Comparable path. Peers and competitors can offer just as much advice as mentors, and you can be a support for each other. Do you know anyone who is dealing with the same issues at the same stage in his or her career? If not, then look at professional associations for your field as a possible resource (Ex. Development – AFP).
  4. Standard expertise. Whether it is a legal question or a financial inquiry, everyone finds a time when standard expertise is needed in his or her career. These areas might include people with financial acumen or accounting, strong legal experience, or business acumen to help with budgets, organizational development, etc.


“A personal board should bring a quantity of knowledge and a quality of character. This group of individuals is focused on your professional development, not your personal life per se. Here are some characteristics of good personal board members.

  • Ability to give honest feedback. While having close friends and family who will support you no matter what is effective, your personal board is not a cheerleading support group for you. They are a place to find accountability. This group should have the competence to provide an honest evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses. A little separation may be required so this group will not let you off the hook and be honest with you as you move forward professionally.
  • Willingness to set aside time for you. When asking someone to serve on your personal board, he or she will need to know what you want and how often you would like to meet. Setting expectations increases the productivity of your time together. Being a personal board member requires more than answering questions quickly; it also demands conducting some homework to understand the strategic options on your plate. These individuals should have available time to meet with you as needed.
  • Dexterity in keeping commitments. From your perspective, this board might never meet together as a group, so you will be responsible for keeping communications going between you and your board members. Ask each board member to commit to 1-2 meetings with you per year for a 2-year period. Outline what will be covered in these meetings such as an update on your professional progress. Then give this information in advance of this meeting, so your board members have time to ponder and research your needs.


“As with any role, it is important to conduct a continual evaluation of your professional path and your personal board of directors. An annual personal retreat is a helpful way to get away from the normalcy of life and evaluate items like what progress you have made, goals attained, and areas to improve. This exercise can provide insight on where you may need more expertise. It also could reveal people you know now that you didn’t know a year ago. Would any of these individuals make good personal board members for you? Lastly, don’t forget to acknowledge your board members’ commitment to you. They have provided a broader experience for you, and they deserve your thanks.”

Patton McDowell & Associates can provide more information on this topic and others in our coaching and facilitation services. If you would like more details, then please contact Sally Loftis at