You finally were asked to serve on a board of directors for your favorite cause. You are excited to have the opportunity, and you want to do a good job. What do you need to know and do to stand out.
First of all, recognize that a board does not manage the day-to-day activities of the organization. That is the job of the staff. The Board’s role is governance (setting overall direction), fiscal oversight (are the donations being used for the proper purpose) and evaluating the executive. Too often Board members think that the staff report to them, and they tend to fall into micromanaging. Just because you have some expertise doesn’t mean that staff need to do anything your way.
Second, Boards have fiduciary responsibility. The Board approves the annual budget, and they should receive and review periodic financial statements. If something seems incorrect or questionable, you have a duty to ask for an explanation.
Organizations should have what is called “D and O” insurance. This stands for Directors and Officers’ insurance. It’s what protects you if funds are misused, if someone is injured, if someone brings an employee complaint, or if the organization is sued. It’s a good idea to ask for a copy of the D and O policy for your personal records.
Carefully read materials sent in advance of Board meetings, and go to the meetings well prepared so you can participate fully. Remember, you are now in a position of responsibility. It’s not responsible to be unprepared or lax.
The organization should ask you about conflicts of interest. You have an obligation to declare any conflicts. Also, be certain you don’t use any knowledge gained by your Board position to advance your own interests. As a Board member, you have a duty of loyalty to the organization.
When warranted, maintaining confidentiality is critical. If confidential issues are going to be discussed, Boards should go into executive session so that their deliberations are legally protected. However, It only takes one Board member making an issue public to negate the protection for the entire Board. Additionally, once a Board decision is made, you are obligated to support it regardless of whether it was the decision you wanted.
Finally, almost all non-profit organizations expect Board members to make an annual financial contribution, and they may set some recommended guidelines. Other groups may expect you to pay your own travel expenses as part of your personal contribution. Most nonprofits also expect Board members to help find other funders and supporters—what is referred to as “give or get.” Make certain you know what is expected of you financially before you sign on. You don’t want to find yourself in an embarrassing situation.
Serving on a Board of Directors for a cause you believe in is a wonderful opportunity. It allows you to amplify your personal volunteer efforts and to work for needed change. If you are invited to join a Board of Directors, consider it an honor, be committed, and do the best job you can.