Not-for-Profit Board of Directors
My first experience serving on a board of directors (BOD) was in the early 90’s. While attending the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business I was elected president of the collegiate chapter American Marketing Association BOD. It was the first of many enlightening, challenging and downright political experiences I’ve enjoyed on a board over the past fifteen plus years.
With the drastic changes in the economy as of late, I’ve been witnessing an interesting paradigm shift in the world of not-for-profit boards. Businesses and organizations have access to fewer grants and sponsorships, while donations are on a decline. Board and committee members are now busier than ever trying to meet the demands of their current employers.
Individuals seem perpetually challenged in their genuine effort to be an active part of their family, a valued employee or business owner and a committed community citizen. Taking on a board position can sometimes tip the scale to the point of overload, especially given all the help most boards are seeking as of late.
Although many of you may believe this is a good time to lessen your commitments outside of home, I would like to encourage you to reconsider (with a few caveats, of course). By doing so you will reap many personal and professional rewards, including but not limited to:
Networking with dynamic and passionate individuals
Showcasing your professional talents
Introducing your product or service
Enabling your family, friends and colleagues to participate in your efforts and events
CONTRIBUTING TO A GREATER GOOD
With that said, I must throw caution to the wind. Part of being on a board is taking responsibility for your commitment. Taking the time to have a full understanding of what is expected of you PRIOR to taking on such a position is a necessity. I recommend a private meeting with the Executive Director as well as a separate, in-person or phone meeting with several current members of the board you are considering joining. Make sure it’s a fit for you from both a personal and professional standpoint.
In honor of a few of my favorite executive directors, I thought I’d share a few personal tips in the realm of professional “boarding” –
Read your bylaws once a year, understand your role and embrace your responsibility.
Attend meetings, contribute to relevant conversation and follow through on your commitments.
Network. If you have a caterer on your board, let them bid on your next event.
Inspire others; bring a positive attitude to your BOD meetings.
Share your creative ideas and solutions, however be prepared to help implement these concepts.
Do not join a BOD if you are not committed to donating your professional expertise, personal (non business) time and financial resources.
Do not join a BOD if their regular meetings take place at a time you know will not work for you.
Do not join a BOD if you are doing a friend a favor and otherwise have no interest.
Do not join a BOD if your first conversation with the Executive Director outlines all of the responsibilities you will not be able to fulfill (translation – if you need ample exceptions compared to the rest of the BOD, it’s not a good time to join).
Do not join a BOD if you are in-between jobs. Although it can be a great resume builder, your best intent can fall short if a new employer has other plans for your time. Instead, join a committee and take on a short-term project. Showcase your professional skills to your fellow committee members and BOD, it may help you land your next great job.
Do not resign without helping your executive director find your replacement, while not a “law” in the bylaw section, it’s a common and well-practiced courtesy.
Do not burnout your executive director, if this individual is overloaded with new programs and strategies your current goals and objectives will surely suffer.
If you’re currently a board member and feel you may be guilty of a few of the “do not’s,” please don’t fret. Now is as good of time as any to reanalyze your role. Perhaps it’s a good time to light your fire and “jump in” to the next meeting by acknowledging your absence to your fellow board members and make a personal commitment of tangible time and resources to your board from this point on? Or maybe you could surprise the group with an unexpected holiday contribution of cash, in-kind services, or relevant goods? Or perhaps it’s simply time to acknowledge the reality that life has you otherwise preoccupied and it’s time for you to find a super star to step-in and fill your role.
Whatever choice you make as a board member moving forward, I encourage you to make it count. Being invited to join a board is a tremendous compliment as well as an opportunity, savor your role, have fun and whatever you do – don’t let your board down.