Dear Potential Board Member,
Thank you for your consideration to serve this community in the role of a Board Member. Serving any organization and community in the role of a Board Member is a great privilege, and carries unique challenges. So please, think carefully before saying the word YES. Here is just a glimpse of what you will do during your commitment, if you decide to take on this amazing task.
So here are considerations that I strongly encourage you to think long and hard about. First and foremost – your time is expected. Depending on the size and maturity of the organization expect anywhere from 2-5 hours per month. Unless, of course, it’s a start-up and/or in a place of reorganizing. Without a doubt, you were asked to serve on this board either due to your expertise, your influence, possibly money and other things, but know that you must invest your time into the organization.
Secondly, do your homework as it relates to the financial position of this organization. If it is a start-up, ask questions like, “How will this organization make money to get it to a place of sustainability?” Does the organization have debt? Is there a reserve fund? What are the salaries of the people who work there?” Ask how they generate revenue and determine if their method of raising funds and/or implementing a social enterprise makes sense. Ask to see their Form 990 – although not a perfect document, there is plenty of information that can be learned from this tool that our government created in an attempt to keep business transparent and accountable.
As a Board Member you must embrace the fact that in some manner you will need to help with fundraising for this organization that you are being asked to represent. This is important, because many times people immediately get turned off by the idea of asking other people for money. The reality is that by giving people the opportunity to invest and/or give to a cause that betters our society, is a noble act. There are many ways to make this a painless experience – great organizations know how to make this happen painlessly. The do-it-yourself organizations are still searching for a clue about any type of fundraising.
In my opinion, it is holding the organizational staff accountable, mainly the Executive Director (ED), that is the most crucial aspect of serving on a board. Oftentimes the founder of the organization serves as the ED. I think this approach is fine in an organization’s infancy. As the organization matures and grows, the founder tends to hinder growth and innovation, which then stifles the organization. The board must always keep in mind what is best for the community which it serves and ensures that only qualified people, who can keep the mission moving forward, should be allowed in positions of leadership. Remember, they are the ones steering the ship. Board Members serve in a role of governance and have a certain fiduciary responsibility that is no small matter. If the ED is a hindrance it is the board’s responsibility to remove that person and find someone who can get the job done.
You should be fully aware of what the expectations are for a Board Member with the particular organization who has asked you to step up to the plate. Find out about your term limits, responsibilities, as well as, giving and fundraising expectations. Ask if there is training or an on-board process you can go through. If these and the questions above cannot be answered, think twice before committing yourself. There are plenty of worthy organizations out there to align yourself with.
Serving as a board member is an honor and a privilege, and in no way should be burdensome or a rude awakening to a mess of a situation. Just like seeking employment or aligning yourself with a partner – perform due diligence before saying yes.