In many organizations over the last few years, the role of board members has changed dramatically. What was once seen as a simple administrative function with just a handful of meetings each year is now more complex and more demanding. Today, a successful board member is no longer defined by what he or she knows, but also by how they operate. In short, the increased demands of boards have made it necessary for members to be more competitive.
So the question is, how can you, as a member of the board, best contribute to the success of the organization?
We think you’ll find the main thrust of the following tips is to invest more time in your board responsibilities and develop new pertinent skills. In the past being a member of a board has sometimes been seen as a position of status, a place for retiring upper management, and more of a position of privilege than one of executive function. That is changing, and that is why we must all improve our skills and hone our focus.
This is one tip that really rubs people the wrong way. But you don’t have to commit more than a few minutes a day to deep, quiet contemplation of the needs of the organization to develop valuable insights that will help you shine as a member. Just commit five to ten minutes a day to sit quietly and contemplate the state and the goals of the organization. Doing this will help you to think on your feet more effectively when new questions and concerns arise, even if you don’t generate any electrifying insights during your contemplation.
Because board membership is becoming a more demanding position, it may be necessary for those of us who have spread ourselves too thin to reign it in a bit. The time for being a collector of board seats has passed. Those who continue to overextend themselves will find themselves being replaced. Your focus and attention are more critical than ever to the success of your organization. So, if you sit on two or more boards, the time has come to consider pulling back from the ones you do not value most.
Refrain from sharing sensitive information outside the boardroom. It can be tempting to share your insider knowledge in a number of settings. But doing so is unprofessional and it will get around eventually, damaging your reputation. Those who maintain a high level of respect refrain especially from gossip and from talking shop out of turn.
Conflicts of interest can be hard to spot if you’re not wary of them. Joining a board where we have a professional interest or connection may be a conflict of interest in and of itself. If you do join the board of a group in which you have a professional interest, make sure to disclose this to the other board members at the earliest opportunity. It will earn you respect, and it will help you to maintain ethical habits.
Knowing the history of the organization, its size, the value of its holdings and assets, and understanding the intentions of its founders and leaders are important. Understanding these things will help you to understand the way the group interacts with the public, why its PR situation is the way it is, and how it can best interact with current and potential financial drawing points. You might consider this a preliminary step in following the first tip on our list.
You don’t have to be a number cruncher in order to read financial statements. But because the primary function of most board members is to curate donors you should learn to read and understand financial statements. Even if accounting is not within your skill set, developing financial statement literacy will enable you to ask the right questions, and that’s key to the success of any board member.
Finally, being a strong board member means searching out good information and dispelling bad information. It can also mean hurt feelings if you happen to outperform some of your peers. Remember, people will forget what you say but they will never forget how you make them feel. Therefore, be kind and professional. Be polite. Be gracious, and lend a hand whenever possible.