Q: What are the best kinds of reference letters to include in my board package?
To really let the Board get to know you, you want testimonials from different facets of your life, business as well as personal. Don’t have any letters written by immediate or extended family members. Have your friends and associates write wonderful things about you, and most importantly, ask them to include specific knowledge about your connection to them: How long have they known you? In what capacity did you meet? (i.e., “Jim is an old college chum, a former neighbor; we served on a committee together,” etc.) Why do they think you will make a great neighbor? If they live in a Co-op or have served on the board at their building, indicate that. The more specific, the better! Then, in your Board Package, make sure to explain how your reference writer knows you. For example: “We are traveling buddies. Our last trip together was Bergen, Norway. We took a cruise through the fjords.” or “We met through a running group three years ago.” Referencing shared hobbies and interests is a positive way to potentially connect with someone on the board who might relate to them.
When it comes to business reference letters, have your co-workers, employer, or people you do business with, explain specifically how you have contributed to the company, or how they have enjoyed doing business with you. (i.e., “John’s talent for building structure has provided our division more efficiency. He is one to take on responsibility without being asked. We are very fortunate to have him on our team.” or, “John’s been a distributor for us for the last 7 years. It’s rare in this business to find a distributer that you can rely on 100% of the time.) Since you never know the views of the Board members in advance, it’s advisable not to focus on controversial topics such as politics and religion. I always suggest that you get a few extra letters in each category — that way you can select the best and not offend anyone by asking them to re-write a letter.
Finally, plan on including a Bank reference letter. Ask a banker at your local branch. They do this all the time and will know what you’re talking about.