Masters of Sex, a Showtime series currently in its second season, is a historical fiction drama about the two pioneers who studied and wrote extensively about human sexual response. The show is a period piece taking place and in one way or another addressing many of the socio-political issues active in the late 50s/early 60s.
Of course, while the study of human sexual response takes center stage in this series, most times, there is a wide range of additional topics. In Episode 8, this week, the topic of a nonprofit board was introduced. The research team was facing a $4000 federal income tax bill. Their solution: get a 501(c) 3.
The scene today's blog addresses begins when the office manager advises the head researcher that the IRS wants to schedule and audit and wants the business to pay a $4,000 bill. The response: haven't we applied for the 501(c)3 tax exemption status? The subsequent response: we need a board of directors. And the response to that statement: working on it with a meeting planned that very night with a prospect, the chief of police.
Later, in explaining the need for a nonprofit status to his wife, Dr. Masters says: when you go to the store for a can of soup, which soup do you buy? His wife's answer: why Campbells Soup of course. Dr. Masters say: a nonprofit board is like Campbells Soup. It's packaging. Dr. Masters also cites that a reputable board is essential for raising money.
Clearly this dialog is the creation of writers who were not in the rooms in when Dr. Masters could have had this conversaton. But it might not be surprising that one current view of the singular value of a 501(c)3 status is about gaining tax exemption and that the board's purpose is window dressing or maybe a bit more, about credibility for sales purposes. Additionally, the Dr. Masters in this show has little if any intention to share his authority over the project with the board he plans to assemble. He is not seeking oversight, he is a control freak by nature.
Perhaps the picture being drawn by the show's writers is not so off-base from many of today's entrepreneural and long-term (particularly founder) CEOs. From my experience, these folks, smart, dedicated and passionate individuals frequently do not see the added value of a board. As a matter of fact they go quite the extreme to ensure their board is not hands-on and isn't able to exercise much authority or influence over day-to-day (good) and strategic (less good in my opinion).
But another reality, also based on my experience and observation: when board members are engaged in developing strategy and providing oversight, they make significantly better fundraisers. They often even want to raise moneys. They don't want to be just packages, they want to make a contribution that is meaningful. And this is their added value and a core principle to who should be recruited to participate as a nonprofit's board members. Dr. Masters could perhaps have gotten further faster in his pioneering efforts if he had viewed the board he was constructing as more than just packaging. Perhaps the show's writers will add some of this framing as the show evolves.