Trustees at prep schools

One of my best friends parents will be a trustee at a GLADCHEMMS school next year. My assumption was that trustees were all alums of the school, however, his dad is not an alum (albeit he would be considered notable due to his work in business/finance). Ultimately, this led me to start wondering what exactly the requirements are for trustees at different private schools and boarding schools and how exactly schools select who becomes a trustee on the board. Is it mostly mega donors to the school? alumni? or is it just parents who were extremely active on behalf of the school?

Another question I was wondering is what is it that trustees actually do during meetings. While I am pretty curious about this, I’ve begun to realize that schools seem to work very hard to keep this information private and away from the student and parent body’s, but as incoming/current students and parents I was really hoping that we could get more information on how the people who “run the school” actually got there and what their duties actually entail.

In the broadest terms, one thing boards like these need is a particular balance of current parents and alums (the sought-after balance is different for different schools).

Also in broad terms, they then need each trustee to bring at least two (preferably three, like the old “triple threat” teachers) of the three Ts or three Ws (depending on local parlance). Those attributes are Time, Treasure (i.e., $$), and Talent (e.g., a law background or nonprofit experience) or Work, Wealth, and Wisdom.

A truly good board will reflect the diversity of the school as well.

Finding the right combination of Trustees is an enormous job in and of itself.

Boards vary in the ways they work and in the work that they do at full board meetings. Often, much of the actual work takes place in committees, but committees also bring slates of ideas, candidates, what-have-you, to board meetings for further discussion and voting.

You should be able to find bios of all of your trustees on your school’s website. And you can read about what organizations such as NAIS and TABS consider best practices for trustees, if you do some careful googling.


Ode to the Board of Trustees

If you are a parent, like most of us, without much money
Whose dream of being on a Board was met with
“That’s funny”

Gaurded by legacies, donors, and a token or two
If you try for the board, they will laugh and say

Make no mistake, most boards want that “moolah”
It doesn’t matter if their ideas belong in the “hoo-hah”

It’s money that speaks in the board room of schools
To argue otherwise, is for dreamers, you idealists and fools.

Before you argue and say “you’re mistaken!”
First look at the stats and see how much money was taken

A million or two may get you a seat - but think -
Why would you spend that much just to take “heat”.

If you do win the jackpot or earn your own dough
Most board members are really the same as a ___O
So stick to your values, your convictions and dreams,
Being on the BS board isn’t as great as it seems! ?


I’ve been on a board and have other family members who have been on boards. @HarrietMWelsch’s post is very accurate.

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It’s like serving on any nonprofit board.

If you’re really interested, this is a good summary from a former private school board member:

NAIS also has good materials online outlining board responsibilities.

Most people invited to join a school board are likely surprised to be invited. It is an honor to be asked, because it means that a committee has decided you can be trusted to work well with others, and not to be an entitled jerk.

Just like the school committee in a public school district, a private school board essentially sets policies and hires the head of school. That means they also get to fire the head when necessary.

A school board is responsible for the school, which carries legal implications as well.

One of the first duties of any nonprofit board member is to keep board discussions confidential. This means they have a responsibility not to discuss board business with outsiders.


I have seen that there are also many graduates under 30 and not all appear to be that well heeled. Though all appear to be doers and big thinkers.

Being invited to be a trustee usually comes along with the implicit expectation for big donation. Sometimes other trustees bring valuable skills (legal, strategic, finance, etc). These schools don’t invite anyone, they must have had some reason to believe your friend would be a valuable addition.

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I have served on boards as a parent (BS) and as an alum (a top 5 business school). To add to @HarrietMWelsch’s points, board members of a BS are generally expected to meet the following expectations:

  1. Growing and/or managing the endowment - This could include fundraising efforts, or offering professional oversight in managing the investment portfolio. Historically, a fairly high percentage of board members have made their career on Wall Street (investment banking, hedge funds, PE/VC) and can offer such services pro bono.

  2. Providing strategic vision - This includes consistently updating the curriculum and subsequent recruitment of eligible faculty members, or help with bringing in guest lecturers/speakers. It could also be related to the upgrade in facilities (e.g. “Should we build a solar farm on campus, like XX schools have? Would you happen to know any specialist contractors who can help?”) or athletic programs (“We know that you are a shareholder of the Boston Celtics, and our basketball teams could use some help in coaching…”). With such topics, your voluntary donation will be highly welcome (and often expected).

  3. College advising/placement - If you are good enough to be invited to the board of a prestigious BS, there is a good chance that you already have strong ties to your alma mater and/or the top college in your area, by virtue of your professional achievements, business endeavors or philanthropic efforts. The school and its board members had done enough vetting before your nomination, and will not be shy to ask you for help.

  4. Intangibles - Giving advice in choosing college majors, offering summer internships in your company, etc.