Board Membership: Part II- How To Be A Successful Board Member

Being a board member isn’t anything to take lightly. While the title of ‘board member’ has a leadership distinction, it also bears great responsibility. Last week we began our series on Board Membership with The Basics. Today, in part II, we will discuss what it takes to be successful. You ready? Let’s go!

Know Your Expectations & Responsibilities

As with any big major role, you should know what’s expected of you. Board membership isn’t about surface level responsibility like being on conference calls and being present at meetings. It is about pulling your weight and owning your role. Starting with the basics you should learn top to bottom what the organization expects from you as a person of leadership for their cause; from your financial responsibilities to the fine details of the board position you are filling.

Be Sure You Can Take on the Time Commitment

Time commitment to a governing board is a big deal. Boards of smaller, newer organizations most-likely will meet monthly, where as boards for more established institutions may meet quarterly or even twice a year. No matter the schedule these meetings are in person and take anywhere from 2-4 hours. Yes, that long. At these meetings organization budgets are discussed, created and or approved; program effectiveness is evaluated, financials are reviewed and any other major topic that needs to be addressed. These general meetings are exclusive of any sub-committees within the board that meet to address specific needs. So that may be another 1-2 meetings monthly or bi-monthly.

Be Creative & Open to Change

You already know your job is to be the expert in your field as a board member. Therefore, you are looked to to have the innovative though processes and solutions to solve issues the non-profit may be facing: How can they recruit more major donors? What types of programs should be implemented to be more effective? What major sponsors can you secure for more funding opportunities? In addition to being creative in helping to plan and troubleshoot, you have to be open to change. Yes, be flexible. Non-profits change like the winds; not because they necessarily want to but because it’s the nature of doing community work. Therefore, boards have to be open to these changes as long as the mission is being met and there is structure around the new changes.

Be Able To Make Hard Decisions

Boards are the most loved- and hated entities for non-profits. Why? Because these are the people who have the unfortunate duty of making decisions no one else wants to make. Firing the Executive Director. Rejecting and pulling programs that aren’t working. Taking money away from one area of the organization to give it to another. etc. etc. While these decisions aren’t favorable, they are sometimes necessary. And besides, you aren’t there to be liked, you are there to do a hard job to ensure the organization is being effective at its greatest capacity.

Get Trained

Just like any other professional role, training is essential. While you don’t have to have a non-profit management degree to be a member of a board, you should take a class or two on non-profit leadership and governance; especially if this is your first time serving. There are a lot of general ‘know how’ rules institutions won’t go over because hey pretty much expect you’d know them- otherwise why are you being recruited, right? So don’t get the blank stare when your colleagues start discussing fiduciary responsibilities and you think they are talking about a signature gala event. Check out Our Resources for thorough training programs that will get you prepared.

Know When to Step Down

Time management and prioritizing are the keys to a successful work-life balance, right? Right. So when you realize what you have on your plate it overflowing, you have to evaluate what stays and what goes. Sometimes it is your board role. Whether you make the decision you have to step back for a few months or resign all together, recognizing your need to get your priorities in order is a good-look for you- and the board. There is nothing worse than carrying the dead weight of a defunct board member. You’re better off making the responsible choice rather than getting the ax. Being fired from a board is terrible for your reputation.

So you know The Basics and now you know what it takes to Be a Successful Board Member. Next week, we will wrap up this series with the types of boards you can join and a few FAQ.

In the meantime, do you have any other best practices of board leadership you’d like to share. Tell us below!

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