One Tip to Be a Happy Board Member at a Healthy Organization

by | Mar 7, 2023

Before I donate to an organization in my community, I like to check out who is on the board of directors. My confidence level grows when I see a name I recognize. After all, I trust the board members to be wise stewards of my donation.

Most of us assume only good things when we find the name of friends and colleagues on the board list. But a board member’s work is not just enjoying a free lunch at the meeting, quick decisions, and fundraiser parties. It can be a lot of work – hard decisions, fundraisers that don’t quite raise enough, and budgets in the red.

Board members are a crucial element of any healthy nonprofit organization. And, despite the ups and downs at any nonprofit, the question arises: can they enjoy their time on the board? Can it be happy?

So, allow me to shift from they to us and talk about our experience on a board. Can our experience be a happy one?

The answer is yes, but only if we recognize that the decision to serve on a board of directors should not be made lightly and should be done one term at a time.

Board service can be fulfilling; a board member can be happy. However, when asked to serve, we need to be clear about the length of board terms.

Healthy and Happy

Healthy should describe the organization. Happy should describe the way you feel about serving on the board. 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.

Let’s look at how it all starts.

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’re not surprised about the invitation to serve. 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 shortlist. 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 a reminder about this month’s meeting. With heavy fingers, you check your calendar and feel better when you see a business conflict. Then, with lighter fingers but a vague sense something is wrong, you send an email with the appropriate apology that you can’t make it this month.

The sensation fades in minutes, and you tackle whatever is next.

One Tip in One Minute

It’s time for a one-minute board lesson. The two-year term you accepted is not a six-year prison term. Quite often, an organization’s bylaws describe board member terms as three two-year terms or maybe two three-year terms. But, no matter how the math works, you still only accepted one 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 have an opportunity to commit for a second or third term every time a term comes close to ending. The organization should make no assumptions about how long you will serve. Likewise, you should not assume how long they want you to serve.

As your term ends, you can 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.

Guilt is Not a Sign of Wisdom

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 your passion, or you are disappointed in how things operate is okay. 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 old Walgreens ad – at the Corner of Happy and Healthy. That’s the intersection you want to find. 

Are you serving on a board right now? Are you at the Corner of Happy and Healthy? Do you want to know how to find the intersection? Call me, and we can talk about it.

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