We write a lot in this space about the role and impact of great board members. We don’t sugarcoat the significant commitment required and we tout the value of setting early shared expectations to avoid frustration and ineffectiveness.
Some organizations are so grateful to have a person agree to board service that they bypass a conversation about shared expectations. Sometimes that gratitude also comes with a reluctance to have the “commitment” conversation for fear of scaring the person off. Frequently board service is described as board members contributing “time, talent, and treasure”. Often these terms are used without being specific about how much time (other than noting the number of board meetings each year); what type of talent that the organization hopes the person will bring and how that aligns with what the person plans to bring or hopes to develop; and what they will be asked to financially “give or get.”
The best relationships begin with transparent communications about the specifics of the commitment being requested. I recommend considering a written, confidential agreement between the chair and each member that is revisited annually and details both the board member’s expectations for service, and what the board member will contribute.
There are lots of ways to come to an initial agreement about board service and still others for routinely revisiting, evaluating and tweaking that agreement. Here are a few conversational starters for shared agreements.
A continuum of time commitment is required dependent on whether members serve and/or chair committees or serve as officers, or chair the board. The board relations committee should have a good gauge of how much time is involved under each of these scenarios. Most boards expect members are asked to serve on at least one committee, and chair a committee at some point. All board members should expect to spend time preparing for committee and board meetings, and attending events.
I will serve on/chair (choose _____):
Board members are often asked to join the board because of their reputation and/or their relationships in the community. Too often a conversation does not occur about whether the prospective member agrees that their name will be a leverage point for the organization and more importantly, whether their “connections” are ones they think are feasible for fundraising or other purposes. The opposite is also not uncommon; that is the person assumes their name and connections are why they are asked to join the board and that they won’t be asked to attend meetings or participate in committee work.
I would like to gain the following from my board experience:
I will identify or otherwise assist in recruiting
Other contributions I plan to make that are not listed here:
Treasure is perhaps the greatest unspoken agreement of any component of board service. Expectations for board giving should be made clear from the beginning (and not left to development staff to explain once someone has joined the board).
I will leverage, cultivate, or ask for the following types of gifts:
Board service can be terrifically rewarding and the best board members understand the commitment going in and rise above and beyond those shared expectations. If these agreements aren’t in place, use this blog to start the conversation.