8 things every board member should know
Every board seat is precious. If all board members are effectively engaged, then the board can do so much to help advance the mission of the organization. But what does it mean to be effectively engaged? Often board members want to be more engaged, but they are not certain what that means, other than attending board meetings. A written statement of board member expectations offers clarity not only to your organization’s prospective new board members, but to the existing members as well.
The question is: What is it that your board needs from each board member?
- Support the mission
We are stating the obvious here, but board members need to believe in the mission. There is nothing worse than joining a board with a mission that you really don’t care about. How will you make time for meetings, ask friends for donations and give your best thinking and leadership to solve important community issues if you don’t strongly support the mission?
- Attend board meetings
This is not an optional activity. While board meeting attendance alone does not make you a good board member, it is critical that board members attend, learn, discuss and make decisions using their collective good judgement. If you don’t attend, you are still accountable if the board makes a bad decision. Some boards establish minimum attendance requirements (75%), others ask for your best effort. If you love the mission, but are unable to attend the board meetings, then you should not serve on the board. You need to find another way to connect with the organization.
- Participate on one committee
The most meaningful work of the board occurs at the committee level. Effective boards delegate their work to strong working committees and ad hoc task forces. When you join a board, try to join a committee right away. That is where you will learn more about one aspect of the organization, get to know a smaller group of board members and staff, and feel that you are making a difference. Board members should not feel obligated to serve on multiple committees, but serving on one committee is important.
- Share your strategic expertise
This goes without saying. Board members are on the board because they bring relevant perspective, expertise, networks and experience from the community to the organization. You are there to share your expertise with the organization.
- Contribute personally
This is in addition to purchasing tickets to the gala or the golf outing. Writing an undesignated check to the organization each year is a requirement of every board member. Some boards establish a minimum gift expectation (or a “Give or Get” expectation), but almost all boards ask board members to make a contribution that is personally significant.
- Assist with fundraising
Even if you are not on the fundraising committee, and even if you believe that you are a lousy fundraiser, every board member is responsible to help expand the nonprofit’s network in the community. Call donors and say thank you, invite people to an open house – find some way to help with fundraising.
- Serve as an effective ambassador
Board members are effective ambassadors because they are not paid staff; they are volunteering for a mission they believe in. Board members need a good elevator speech and they need to practice telling people about their organization.
- And then the very basic expectations for all board members — Maintain confidentiality and fulfill your fiduciary and ethical responsibilities.
Board member expectations should be specific to your nonprofit and answer that pressing question of what your organization needs from each board member. An engaged and effective board is as important as engaged and effective staff. The staff are accountable. So is the board.
Elizabeth Voudouris is executive vice president of BVU, a nonprofit partner and grantee of GAR Foundation.
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