Board Leadership – A Burden or a Blessing?

by Rachel M. Woda

Rachel Woda HeadshotDuring a recent conversation with a friend Sam, he mentioned that he had been asked to join a non-profit board. I began to congratulate him when he started to say “They promised me it would only be a few meetings a year and wouldn’t take too much of my time, so that’s good.”

I kept thinking about Sam’s comment, and I started to wonder, “When did serving in a leadership role for organizations become something to sell as a burden rather than a blessing?” The organization of which we were speaking has a strong mission, one we both agree is worthwhile, serves the community well and has a good reputation. So why would their current board leadership choose to undersell all of those attributes in order to gain a new volunteer?

Last month, The Chronicle of Philanthropy created a checklist – the 10 Things to Consider Before Joining a Board ( I know that Sam was knowledgeable about the mission and governance issues of the organization. But, was he aware of his fiduciary and fundraising responsibilities or even the expected personal gift? It seemed that his experience with the recruitment process didn’t quite measure up.

According to the Chronicle’s checklist – the “recruitment” consideration is, “does the organization have a board commitment form (or job description) that clearly outlines what will be expected of you? Is it clear exactly which skills or expertise the board needs from you? Is there an orientation process for new members to ensure you will have all of the information you need in order to be a knowledgeable and effective board member?”

Upon further reflection, it seems that this recruitment process was short-circuited and that the only factor was to say to Sam, “Hey, it’s no big deal! It won’t take that much of your time.” In a world where we all seek to be in control of our lives and where we strive to be masters of multi-tasking, we look for the latest gadget or app to help us improve our time management. In this case of nonprofit governance and leadership development, the organization that was trying to recruit Sam saw its best chance for success in minimizing the time and commitment it takes to serve as a member of the board.

If our goal is to advance the mission of the nonprofits we care about, either as staff or volunteers, it requires a clear understanding of what those roles entail. More importantly, it is essential that we present those roles to candidates for leadership positions in a manner that engages potential volunteers in the blessing of the work.

Here at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates, one of the many things we can do is help your nonprofit craft a clear and positive recruitment method to cultivate engaged volunteers and steward your board to success. One example of how we can help is the Individual Board Member’s Roles & Responsibilities which can be found in our eBook, How You Can Engage New Board Members. Click here to order your copy.)