Are you ready for the Nonprofit Boardroom?

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.
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