You love the mission. You have a handle on the organization. Now, what is a board member supposed to be doing?
Ah, you think you know. Think again. Some boards are working boards. Others fly at a higher elevation, board governance. Some are stuck in the weeds. Some simply listen to reports. Some are cheerleaders. Some are in the doldrums. Some are a powerful leadership group. And some raise a ton of money. What will be expected of you on this board?
Start with requesting a description of what they believe to be the role of their board. For example, BoardSource offers a list of 10, and they may refer to it. In my book, Board Essentials, I have a list of 8. Then ask for a board member job description. If they don’t have it in writing you will have to work a little harder at getting your answers.
Ask for a copy of the minutes for the past couple of meetings. That will tell you a little more.
Now, you can go on to the fourth question. What do I know about board governance? If you are new to boards, you likely understand programs and management, but not so much, the meaning of governance. I like what Dennis Pointner and James Orilikoff have to say about governance.
Governance is an activity, an action word; it is what boards do. The essence of the verb to govern is being a steward and trustee of an organization’s resources and capacities. Governance is a team sport. Boards exercise collective influence, their members have no individual power. Boards exist only when they meet, that is, between raps of the gavel.
Of course, there is more than sitting in a meeting. That’s where governance ends and the volunteer responsibilities of being on a board begin – things like being an ambassador for the organization in everyday life, helping with fundraisers, using your particular talents and connections to further the organization’s aims.
If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.