At the Corner of Happy and Healthy

by | Jun 5, 2014

Happy should describe the way you feel about serving on the board. Healthy should describe the organization. Your time on the board shouldn’t feel like a six year prison sentence, looking through the bars of early interest and well-intended commitment.

You remember the opportunity started well. There was a very nice lunch with a friend and the executive director.  You asked questions; they asked questions. Then they asked the question.  Will you join the board?

Truthfully, you thought you might be asked. After all, you’ve donated almost every year for a while and attended several fundraiser events.  You even take a minute to scan the newsletter when it shows up. You’re a donor. This organization is on your short list. You say yes and board service begins.

Fast forward eighteen months.  You didn’t miss a meeting during the first year.  Then something changed.  You open your email and there’s the reminder about this month’s meeting. With heavy fingers you check your calendar and feel a little better when you see a business conflict.  With lighter fingers, but a strange sensation something is wrong, you send an email with the appropriate apology that you can’t make it this month.

In a matter of minutes the sensation fades and you tackle Next.

It’s time for a one minute board lesson.  That two year term you accepted is not a six year prison term.  Quite often an organization’s bylaws state board member terms are three, two year terms or maybe two, three year terms.  No matter how the math works out you still only accepted one short term. You did not commit to multiple terms.

Toward the end of your first term the nominating committee should ask you directly if you would like to serve a second term.  You should be asked every time a term comes close to ending. The organization should make no assumptions about how long you will serve. You should make no assumption about how long they want you to serve.

As a term comes close to an end you have an opportunity to make a great gift to the organization. The gift of your seat at the board table may be as valuable to them as your time is to you.

Is guilt setting in? Let it go. Stepping off a board at the end of the first term because you don’t have time, it’s not really your passion, or you are disappointed in how things operate is OK.  In fact, it makes room for the next board member who is passionate and does have time.

A healthy board has happy board members.  It’s like the Walgreen’s ad – at the Corner of Happy and Healthy. That’s the intersection you want to find.

Are you at the Corner of Happy and Healthy? Do you want to know how to find the intersection? Call me. Tell us about your favorite board experience.


  1. Michael Lujan

    Well written Dawn and it truly hits home. Being on several boards through the years has at times been more mechanical than functional. This post has reminded me to check myself and the level of commitment I’ve promised to the organizations I serve. I’m looking forward to reading Jim Brown’s book!

    • Your Philanthropy

      It’s always good to take an inventory of our commitments to be sure they are where we want to be.


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