What it takes to become a Grinnell College trustee

Lily Hamilton
hamiltol@grinnell.edu

What does it take to become a trustee of Grinnell College? More than money, according to Grinnell College President Raynard Kington and Chair of the Board of Trustees’ Governance Committee Patricia Fitzgibbons Anderson ’80. While trustees are expected to make the College one of their top philanthropic priorities, the board considers a range of characteristics when determining who becomes a trustee. 

The road to becoming a trustee begins with a nomination process facilitated by the Trustee Governance Committee. According to Anderson, the chair of the committee, nominations fortrustees come from a variety of sources including the Department of Alumni Relations, board members and alumni. The Governance Committee then uses a three-year plan to guide its initial consideration of potential new trustees. 

“This plan takes into consideration a range of characteristics, including skill sets, racial and ethnic diversity, gender and geographic location. These variables are prioritized each year based on the current Board composition and needs, and taking into consideration retiring Board members who are completing their service,” Anderson wrote in an email to The S&B.

After the committee agrees on nominees, it presents the candidates in a formal nomination to the board at the winter meeting. The board then votes on the nominees in the spring at its annual meeting. 

Students are not involved in the approval process for trustees. However, according to Anderson, students may bring potential candidates to the board’s attention if they wish. Kington suggested that limited student involvement may be best for the board. 

“Every student, even the one who doesn’t [receive] a dollar of aid, receives some free education,” Kington said, referencing discrepancies between actual College operating costs and the cost of tuition. Kington claimed that as a result, students may have a conflict of interest in determining the board’s membership because its decisions directly affect them financially.

Kington has opted out of the process for appointing trustees due to a similar conflict of interest. 

“I made a decision not to be involved in choosing trustees. It’s controversial because they would be my boss,” Kington said. 

Both Kington and Anderson stressed the importance of cultivating a board with diverse characteristics, experiences, areas of expertise and financial backgrounds.   

“Having a diverse board is important to us, and as I mentioned earlier it is an important consideration for us as we assess our needs and candidates,” Anderson said.

Kington added that when considering nonprofit board membership in general, it is important to consider the unique contributions each member will make. He described a common understanding that members of nonprofit boards make unique contributions of “time, talent and treasure.” According to Kington, each factor should be valued equally when considering how the member will benefit the board of trustees. 

However, when asked whether someone’s ability to make significant financial contributions affects the likelihood they will be nominated to the board, Kington acknowledged the key role that philanthropy plays in supporting nonprofit organizations.

“The fact of the matter is that institutions like Grinnell are increasingly dependent on philanthropy in a society where there is increasing economic inequality,” Kington said.

However, Kington noted that board members come from diverse financial positions, a factor that he says is important to consider when considering how board members’ financial contributions will impact them personally. 

“All trustees are expected to make the College a top philanthropic priority. There is a broad range of giving by individual members of the board,” Anderson wrote.

Kington reinforced the expectation that the College is a primary philanthropic organization for members. 

“It’s a reflection of real interest in the organization,” he said. 

This financial priority does not manifest in a required contribution from members, however. In Kington’s eyes, selecting a specific number for financial contributions does not allow for flexible forms of giving to the College. He claimed that some board members make large contributions that are not significant parts of their wealth while others make smaller contributions that have larger personal impacts.   

“I know a couple of board members who have given until it hurt. It was clear they made Grinnell a priority in their estates. … There are people on the board who have given to the College a huge percentage of their wealth,” Kington said.

Both Kington and Anderson stressed that members’ commitments of time, experience and expertise hold equal value to their monetary donations. Furthermore, Anderson takes the perception that members’ finances afford them more clout on the board very seriously. 

When asked how board members’ financial contributions impact the decisions the board makes, Anderson responded, “If you are asking whether an individual trustee’s financial contributions influence the board decision-making in any way, the answer is absolutely not.”


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