So you've been elected to the Board! Congratulations! You have found a place to channel your enthusiasm to serve your favorite charity, service club or business organization. I hope you're approaching your new position with enthusiasm and you haven't been "Shanghaied," so to speak!
I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of board members over the last 20 years in my role as an association executive and consultant for a wonderful public relations and management firm. As volunteerism nationwide declines, association management has turned into one of the fastest growing fields. I can say from experience that board members, who take their position seriously and enter into the experience prepared, will bring the best to their organization.
As an association executive director, I will share some advice on board service AFTER you say YES. It is similar to coming aboard a ship which YOU are to help navigate. So, welcome aboard!
1. Learn the "Ropes." Before you even get on the ship you need to know what you are doing. Ask your association staff to provide you with a year's worth of minutes, newsletters, financial reports and strategic plans (and read them).
2. Meet the Sailors. Make an appointment with the association office or the executive director and see how they work with your members/donors. Get to know your fellow board members and why they are serving.
3. Get Your Sea Legs. You need to attend the board meetings. That's where you learn your way around. Be mentally present and read the materials you were sent in advance. It's not just a good idea; it protects you legally as a board member. While you may have some great ideas, it might be best to wait a few meetings before you try to change course. Other board members and staff have a historical perspective on issues-so find that out first. If the board is formal, brush up on your Roberts Rules of Order.
4. All Hands on Deck. As a board member, you are asked to use your wisdom and perspective to guide and strengthen the organization. Your staff or volunteer leaders will handle the details within the budget and timelines provided. If you are on a non-profit board, you will most likely be expected to bring your fundraising prowess to the table by either donating money yourself or calling upon your colleagues to give. A membership organization will need your relationships for recruitment and retention. If you cannot or will not do that, then you may want to serve on a volunteer committee.
5. Stay the Course and Watch for Icebergs. Your strength as a board member will be demonstrated when you have earned the respect of other board members, staff and the membership. Your colleagues will then listen when you caution "red skies in the morning" and guide the board on a different route. Eventually, this will lead to greater leadership roles.
6. All Cruises Come to an End. Stay on your cruise as a board member just the right amount of time. Unless you are moving through the chairs to leadership, take a graceful exit when your term is complete and recruit a new, enthusiastic replacement. That will be the gift you leave your organization.