A “Real Life” Board Job Description: In other words, this is what great board members actually do

A “Real Life” Board Job Description: In other words, this is what great board members actually do
Spring 2016 by Emily Anthony and Julie Edsforth

Culture of Giving

It’s easy enough to find a traditional job description for a nonprofit board member on the web. Sometimes they are structured around board members’ legal responsibilities (usually described as the “duty of care”, “duty of loyalty” and “duty of obedience” ... huh?); other times they recount the major functions of the board such as “steward the mission”, and “ensure adequate resources and protect assets.” While it’s important for board members to understand their legal obligations, those job descriptions can leave new board members without any idea of what they should actually, personally, be doing each and every month if they want to be great board members. So we took a shot at writing a board job description for real life, one which everyone can understand and act on. And the good news is, if you do all these things, you’ll have covered all those “duties” even if you never understand what they all really mean.

FIRST: Be truly passionate about the mission of your organization. Everything else will come easily after that.

STAY “IN THE KNOW”

  • Know why you are passionate about the organization, and be able to articulate it clearly.
  • Know everything you can about what the organization is doing. See the programs in action, meet the staff and the clients, listen to their stories. You’re going to need to be able to tell them one day!
  • Be prepared. Read the board packet (yes, including the financial statements!), pay attention at meetings, stay in the loop about what is going on.
  • Know what is going on in the community in your issue area, and what issues are facing non-profits more generally.

SHOW UP AND ENGAGE

  • Board work is team work. The occasional need to miss a meeting is understandable, but you can’t really be part of the team if you aren’t there in person almost every time the board meets.
  • Make friends with your teammates. Taking the time to make personal connections with other board members will pay off many times over in your ability to work well together and have fun doing it.

FOLLOW THROUGH WHEN YOU COMMIT . . .

  • …Or admit it and ask for help if you can’t. Yes, this means even on those fundraising calls you are putting off! Boards only work if everyone does their part; not following through puts unfair strain on staff or other board members.

FOCUS ON THE BIG PICTURE, AND SPEAK UP WHEN IT’S NOT CLEAR

  • Try to see the forest for the trees: keep your sights on where the organization is going and how it is changing with the current environment. Don’t get bogged down in details about how the programs are run or other staff level decisions.
  • Ask questions at board meetings about what you don’t know, even if you are new. Guaranteed, other people at the table are wondering too.
  • Be willing to challenge “what everyone else thinks” and “the way we’ve always done it.” The boards that really soar are the ones where people are raising exciting, creative, challenging ideas at every meeting. The ones that you see in the news because they got into trouble are the boards where no one is asking the hard questions.

MAKE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN YOUR ORGANIZATION AND THE REST OF THE WORLD

  • Talk up your organization, wherever you go. You do not need to wait for a public speaking engagement to tell people you meet about how much you love your organization! The answer to “How are you?” can be “I’m on a great board!”
  • Spread the word about the great work your organization is doing in the communities where you live, work, and play. Share information about your organization with groups you belong to such as church, alumni associations, professional associations, or wherever else you are connected.

GIVE LIKE YOU MEAN IT

  • In addition to being important to the bottom line, a “stretch gift” will make you feel proud of yourself and your involvement in this organization. It will show your commitment and make it easier to ask others to join you in investing. Don’t “give til it hurts” . . . give til it feels really good!

BE WILLING TO REACH OUT AND ASK

  • It’s your job as a board member to reach out to people and invite them into your organization. You might ask people in your circle of friends for expert advice, to be volunteers, to attend your event, and eventually to make a donation or even join the board. Asking can be scary, but when it happens in the context of an ongoing relationship with a shared interest in the mission, it will feel much more easy and natural than you might think. (After all, aren’t you glad someone asked you to join the board?)
  • Recognize that you are a critical part of the fundraising team. Everyone on the board has different skills and may have a different role to play, but all board members need to understand that fundraising is a shared responsibility. Ask for help or even a new assignment when you feel out of your element, but one way or another we all have to get in the game.

ASK YOURSELF, “IS THIS REALLY MY JOB AS A BOARD MEMBER?”

  • Determine if issues are “Where should we go?” questions or “How do we get there?” questions. If it is the latter, it is likely a staff call. Give input, ask for clarification, but don’t micromanage.
  • Keep your “board member hat” on for strategic discussions, being an ambassador, and other board-level work. But when you are helping out as a hands-on volunteer you should be taking direction from the staff or whoever owns the project, just like any other volunteer.
  • Be careful about making too many demands of staff. Of course ask them for what you need, but remember that they have important jobs that may make filling extra requests for help or information hard to take on in a timely way.

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