On Boards

http://www.cgglobal.com/image/nonproductimage/Board_of_Directors_16021538.JPGI have the pleasure of serving on a number of boards here in Philadelphia.  I do this because they are the confluence of a lot of things that are important to me: being civically engaged, building my professional network, getting the scop on what's going on around town, and learning exactly how things work.  So, far from being difficult time commitments to honor, boards are efficient uses of my scarce time. 

That being said, I fall far short of the time and energy I ought to and want to devote to each board.  Every organization deserves board members that are committed, and people who can't serve to a certain level should step down to let others who can have their seat.  And, looking at things from my perspective, it's important not to over-commit, and probably better to sacrifice quantity for quality when it comes to what I do commit to.

But I have made my peace with myself and with the leaders of the organizations whose boards I serve on, that a partial commitment is better than none at all, and that if I can focus on where I can add the most value, I can give quality time even if I can't give quantity of time.  Indeed, even people who have more time to give to a board role have to think about where they want to channel their efforts, since they can't possibly serve everywhere.

To wit, in considering the boards I'm on and where I tend to devote my efforts, here are some places I tend to focus on vs. not focus on:


Checking in with the executive director to let them know I have their back, talk out any issues that are helpful to talk out, and make sure they're feeling good about themselves and the organization.  I've written before about how I choose boards in part to spend more time with leaders I enjoy being with, and that is still true, so this role is a bit self-serving.  Still, I think it's important to take care of our leaders, and if I can play a small part in helping them stay sane, I am happy to do so.

Leveraging my professional networks to bring in funds and friends for the organization.  Fundraising is simultaneously expected of all board members and dreaded by all board members.  Very few of us like hitting up our colleagues for cash, but it's a responsibility I try to take seriously on behalf of the organizations where I serve.  Specifically, I annually download my professional network list and identify people I want to approach for each of my boards.  This process usually yields about 30 to 40 individuals that I can then target when it comes time for each organization's annual fundraiser or campaign appeal.

Participating in a multi-year strategic planning process.  I feel it is a board's responsibility in part to help an organization take a high-altitude look at the landscape in which it operates.  Questions like what are we good at, where is the market heading, and how should we be perceived are hard to tackle when you're in the day-to-day slog of running programs and making payroll.  It's personally enriching for me to deconstruct an organization and its competitive environment in order to get a sense of what we should be about and how we should then process new information and new opportunities.


I do not tend to get involved in supporting existing programs or envisioning new programs.  I am usually not involved in finances, personnel, governance, beyond being aware enough to identify red flags.  I care deeply about new board member recruitment and orientation, so will speak up about their importance, but have not typically been able to follow through and participate in these roles. 

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