A Nonprofit Executive's Advice to Prospective Board Members
One element of my career that I love to engage in is giving advice. In some cases, I give paid advice to clients through my work as a consultant. In many other cases, it is advice given to others because I love this profession and want those in need of education to receive it.
I am constantly asked to lecture, direct webinars and speak to boards of various sizes. The educator in me cannot help but assist. I love to dig into research on a variety of topics. In that respect, I quickly gain current knowledge on older topics to keep communication fresh. In the next month, I have several presentations on one of my favorite topics, which is board development. In that context, I have advice to share with prospective board members.
Anyone thinking about serving on a board, whether it is an advisory board or governing board, needs to think hard about the reasons for serving. When I decided to join an educational foundation board that served a public-school system, several reasons for serving came to mind: I loved children and education; my wife was a teacher, and I could see how hard that profession was and how devoted she was to teach — despite a lack of resources at times; I wanted to share my expertise with the superintendent of schools, volunteers and the community; I needed to incorporate best practices and strategic planning into the fundraising process; and the list goes on.
The point is, I had many reasons for joining this board. I wanted to serve and needed to serve. In fact, you can say I was called to serve that board at that point in my life.
If you are thinking about serving on a board, create a white paper on the pros and cons of service. The pros should vastly outweigh the cons. Serving on a board allows you to invest in your community; allows you to build a network; gain new skill sets and use existing ones; learn the art of persuasion; gain abilities to become a leader; acquire knowledge about systems and processes; command the art of leading meetings; understand the role and mission of an organization; plus obtain the experience of being an ambassador to an organizational expertise. Plus, if it is an educational institution, you can see the joy of your success transferred and transformed into the eyes of children. Your board involvement joins other board members in creating a total board process enabling the organization to achieve successful operations.
Before you jump to service on a board, ask yourself a few questions.
- Why should I agree to serve on this board?
- What are my expectations from serving on this board?
- Is serving on this board a high priority for you?
- What can you give to the board that others cannot give?
- Can you bring best of class ideas from other board experiences to this board?
- Is serving on the board a resume filler or a passionate cause for you?
- Can you give 100% effort to this board?
- Do you aspire to lead this board when your name is called?
- Do you have the time to serve on this board, and can you perform all that is required?
- Are you serving on this board for the right reasons?
Review board member responsibilities as you decide to serve on a board. The board needs to embrace the organizational mission, work closely with the organizational CEO, help implement the organizational strategic plan and organizational plans, monitor financial resources, provide committees that can utilize your expertise, provide intense and effective orientation, plus clearly outline all responsibilities for board members. In fact, before you make a final decision to join the board, you should talk to former board members and past board leaders to better understand their definition of serving on the board.
I have more questions for you to consider. All board members have board performance expectations. Are you ready to exceed them? Are you an advocate for the organizational mission, and will you maintain confidentiality in all board work? Will you support board decisions once these are made when you might be in the minority? Will you help build a good organizational culture and inform the board of any conflicts of interest? Will you respect the boundaries of each specific organizational entity as each role is responsible for specific functions and purposes? Will you seek to open doors for new relationships and partnerships? Will you ask for money? Will you agree to represent the organization to external populations? There are many questions, and you need to answer these positively before you agree to serve on a board.
My advice to prospective board members is to understand that board engagement is all about time, talent and treasure. Can you give the time required, provide your talents to the best of your ability and give or get resources for the benefit of the organization? I have served on many boards, and I have given 100% once I made the decision to serve. I made sure these boards had term limits, written job descriptions and total support from administration when I joined these boards. I hoped I made a difference during my board tenures.
The nonprofit world continues to need volunteer board members who are diverse and are willing to step up and promote society. Each board must have variety, be committed to having effective meetings and be goal-oriented. Dynamic boards are not easy to find, but strive to attain that elusive objective.
At the end of the day, when deciding to join a board, think hard about who the organization serves, if you have a passion for their cause and what it would mean for you to join this board. Board service is a truly rewarding experience!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.