By Les Wallace, PhD
The 2012 BoardSource Nonprofit Survey says “40% of nonprofit board members don’t really understand what they are supposed to do.” Possibly your Board has encountered this uncertainty among new board members.
You may already have a board member “job description” on your web site, including expected time commitments. You may also have posted a bibliography of relevant governance literature with which new board members should become familiar. Online information is becoming commonly available, as is a list of competencies and backgrounds the organization seeks in a new board member.
You might wish to consider adding the general guidance given below as a means of helping future board members seriously reflect upon their readiness and commitment to serve.
The little things:
- I am willing to give the organization my best regardless of recognition or reward.
- I am able to commit to at least 150 hours of board service annually without feeling burdened.
- I am willing to commit to at least 24 hours a year developing my governance literacy and capabilities.
- I understand business financial systems and can interpret a balance sheet.
- I am technologically literate enough to navigate the internet, social media, and the Microsoft suite of software products without assistance.
- I am assertive enough to not be intimidated yet authentic enough to be an appreciative listener.
- I have studied materials on the responsibilities of a governing board and understand the difference between the board’s role and management’s role.
- I understand I may be asked to fundraise or advocate on behalf of our organization and am comfortable with those roles.
- I recognize I’m here to serve our constituent’s best interests.
The big things:
- I recognize I am a legal trustee of the significant value our constituents are counting on us to deliver.
- I understand the conditions of our nonprofit corporate and IRS status.
- I understand I don’t represent a gender, ethic, socio-economic, regional, age related, or other demographic group—I represent all our constituents.
- I’m a learner and commit to constantly improve my perspective and skills.
- I am committed to assuring our board has substantive and timely feedback regarding our constituents needs and desires relative to our organization.
- I will seek out an experience board member—within or external to our board—to provide mentor support during my service.
- If I don’t understand materials or decisions brought to the board I will persevere with questions until I am satisfied.
- I’m familiar with some of the most recent literature on the challenges of governance and standards of good governance.
- I can facilitate a team of diverse others in cooperative problem solving.
- I am known for thinking innovatively and embracing new ideas and concepts and am willing to challenge our board to stretch their thinking.
- I’m well read enough to understand the pace of, and need for change, and the degree of risk present in today’s business environment.
- I am motivated to continually look to the future horizon for new ideas and approaches and will assure they emerge in our agendas.
- I understand the conflict of interest restrictions of board service.
- I commit to finding someone more experienced and competent than me to recruit for board service.
- After a reasonable amount of board service I’ll be willing to move aside for new board members.