First Year on a Non-Profit Board

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I’ve been privileged to serve as a board member for a local non-profit organization I love tremendously for the last 10 months. As I am quickly approaching my one-year anniversary of service I find myself reflecting back and thinking back to some of the important lessons I’ve learned about being a first-time board member.

In the months prior to officially joining the board I had some one-on-one conversations with the organization director working together on a couple different projects, but I’d say I didn’t have much to offer by way of previous board leadership. So you can imagine my surprise when I was first asked to consider joining the board. I wasn’t even sure I was the right guy for the job.

If you are ever fortunate enough to serve in this kind of capacity or if you’re weighing whether or not to say yes to this kind of opportunity I hope you can learn a thing or two from my first exposure to board leadership.

Lesson 1: There many reasons you should say no to joining a board.
Just this week I was talking to a friend who had four offers to join boards in the last couple of months. Four!

#yikes

She said no to all of them, not because they weren’t amazing organizations, but because she knew there are only a few great reasons to say yes. Consider the following when making your decision:

·      You’ve been asked; AND, you already have a pre-existing relationship with the organization
·      There is a role description on paper
·      You believe in the organization’s mission
·      You trust the person in charge of the daily operations of the ministry
·      You want to learn and grow as a leader by taking on a new challenge
·      You have the margin in your calendar

Lesson 2: Intentionally spend time with the person in charge.
Get to know the leader over cups of coffee or lunch on a personal level. It’s a great way to hear about the vision and direction of the organization, ask clarifying questions, and offer to pray with and for them. It can be as simple as asking these three questions:
·      What are you working on?
·      What do you need from me?
·      How can I pray for you?

Lesson 3: Ask lots of questions during board meetings and listen well.
Others around the decision-making table will just assume you know if you don’t ask. In the first year of board leadership it’s okay to have more questions than answers. Take on the posture of a learner at first by absorbing anything and everything you can from the rest of the board.

Lesson 4: Figure out the processes.
I’m a process guy. I like creating, executing, and tinkering with processes. So find out who does what, and how things get done. Because I was elected to serve as Treasurer (a role I was initially completely uncomfortable with), I had to learn how the finances were handled so I intentionally spent time with Operations Director who provided oversight to this area in order to gain a better understanding of how the system worked.

Lesson 5: Not knowing donors creates a weird tension when preparing a new budget.
Because the ministry runs on the generosity of donors who are unknown to me, I wasn’t prepared for the inner tension I felt when creating a new budget for the upcoming year. I had questions: “Who are our donors? Where do they live? How committed are they to the mission of the organization? What other streams of revenue fund our ministry?” To manage that tension I had to press in to Lesson 2, 3, and 4 by asking questions, figure out the process, and trust the person in charge.

Lesson 6: Donors will give generously for a specific purpose so don’t be afraid to ask.
This year the Executive Director and his wife celebrated a milestone anniversary with the organization. To honor their leadership and commitment to the mission I contacted a select group of donors asking them to help us bless our director with a special getaway. The money to accomplish this wasn’t in the budget, and the donors exceeded my expectations. They gave and I was blown away by their generosity.

I’d love hearing your thoughts on board leadership. What lessons have you learned? What tensions are you managing?