Board Member Commitment

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WHEN YOU AGREE TO SERVE ON A BOARD … you agree to a very special commitment. We have spoken previously of the responsibilities of boards as a whole, but now, we want to talk about you and what it is that you, individually, owe to the rest of your peers on the board and to the agency which all of you serve.

The following are what may be considered the four basic – minimum – commitments that all board members should be willing to make:

  • To attend and to participate in all of the board’s meetings.
  • To serve actively on at least one active committee.
  • To do your homework in order to be prepared to participate fully and intelligently in board or committee meetings.
  • To provide financial support to the agency within your own capability.

None of these four basic commitments need elaboration – except to say that if you as an individual cannot agree to at least this minimum level of commitment, then it is very likely true that you should not be occupying a seat on your board. And if this seems unduly harsh, consider the fact that your community and the clients served by your agency have a right to expect that the members of the board will all bring the required level of commitment to the proper governance of the agency. The work of your agency is too important to too many.

Five additional commitments that all of us must make when we agree to serve on a board have to do with our conduct as board members – as follows:

  1. Individual board members should act only as a full board and not act unilaterally unless instructed by the full board to do so. This point is of particular importance with respect to an individual board member’s relationship to staff.
  2. Individual board members should only speak for the full board when the full board has sanctioned their doing so. Typically the board president and the executive director are authorized to speak for the agency and for the board. On occasion, when the media are involved, a board member experienced in dealing with the media may be appointed spokesperson. If you are ever in doubt as to the propriety of your speaking in circumstances wherein your words may be interpreted as the word of the board, the best advice is – Don’t!
  3. Individual board members must support the decisions of the full board in public – even if they disagreed with those decisions when they were made. Part of being a mature person is recognition of the fact that one’s opinions are not always shared by one’s peers. Should you feel strongly enough about an issue, then you must leave the board and work for change from the outside. Publicly divided boards do not gladden the hearts of the agency’s clients and are poor candidates for philanthropy.
  4. Individual board members should learn how they – as a full board – can keep their hands on their organization, but not in it. How this is done is through appropriate supervisory activity by the board.
  5. Individual board members will constantly recognize the board’s continuing need for an ongoing leadership development effort and will play an active role in the process of identifying potential new board members.

Most of the ills that beset so many boards would disappear if every board in its recruitment process was careful to ask for the service only of those willing to bring the necessary commitment. And for each of us personally, the greatest satisfactions to be derived from board service (and there are many) come only after we have made the requisite commitment.

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