November 24, 2017; Star Tribune
Why is it that when an article comes out encouraging people to join a board, it only talks about the reasons why you have to take it seriously?
Certainly, Marc Kotsonas is correct in his article that there are many things to think carefully about when joining a board. The duties of care, loyalty, and obedience are very real, very important, and not to be taken lightly.
- The duty of care requires a director to do due diligence and pay attention.
- The duty of loyalty means putting the good of the nonprofit first and foremost.
- The duty of obedience means obeying the internal and external laws governing nonprofits.
Not to mention that a board director also takes on the fiduciary and legal responsibility for the nonprofit for which she serves. Kotsonas sums up his points by saying:
Serving on a nonprofit board not only provides gratification by giving back to the community, but it can also open the door to new opportunities or business connections. It can also be a significant commitment with a lot of responsibilities.
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Alas, Kotsonas is not alone in his somewhat dour approach to board service. Even BoardSource is known to make it feel like something to avoid: “No one at BoardSource will tell you that good leadership and governance is easy. Because it’s not.” DiversityMBA says that people should consider board service for a somewhat selfish reason—as a career boost. You can learn all kinds of wonderful skills along the way and meet important people. LinkedIn has a nice article by Hilary Shirazi telling readers about the benefits of service that include meeting interesting people, having a real impact on the community, and more. She also reminds us that you should not join a board to build your resume—that’s wasting your and the nonprofit’s time. But she also adds that same cautionary note: “It won’t always be easy! You’ll need to make tough choices, work well with others, and face discouragement.”
Alas, the same is true in life overall.
But the wise nonprofit understands that engagement and a joyous sense of common purpose is needed to counter the sense of responsibility that comes with board service. This is the fount from which energy flows.
So, perhaps we should also remember that serving on a board is one of the most generous things anyone can do when it is done for the right reasons. A board director is asked to give of her time (at least 8–10 hours a month); talent (providing leadership, oversight, and support); and treasure (making an annual donation that is as generous as possible). But the director also gives of her reputation, putting her name on the letterhead, and assuming responsibility for the good and bad things that happen. Why does she do this wonderful thing? Because it is a cause she cares about and wants to see move forward, and because she is ensuring that the community’s investment in the nonprofit—our investment—is being put to good use.
In the spirit of the season, we suggest that executives and board chairs consider the tone and content of board meetings. What are board members being treated to at your table? Is common purpose central in the conversation? If not, maybe you could rethink the menu.—Rob Meiksins