Two words: Show Up.
Too often in my almost-23 years of serving nonprofits, I have fretted over, worried about, tried to change boards whose members may be in the room, but have never really “shown up” in their minds or hearts. After a lot of angst, I finally conceded that I can’t change that dynamic; only individual board members can decide whether they are actually there or just taking up space.
So I offer a few suggestions for truly “showing up” and a few other “ups” that will make the board experience good for the member and for the nonprofit.
First, Show Up: Choose to be truly present, in board meetings and in the community. Represent your organization with pride and purpose. As a board member, seize the opportunity to add value to your organization. Be future-focused, always thinking ahead. Participate in providing the leadership that will carry the organization forward toward its vision. A high-performing board begins with you.
How do you do this? Some suggestions. . .
Gear Up: Prepare in advance for each board meeting. Review the financials, note questions and comments you have. Read the minutes of each meeting and know the issues. Ask for information you need and didn’t get. Don’t get information in advance of board meetings? Two words of advice: Demand it. It’s your job to be prepared.
Stand Up: Be an advocate for your organization and its mission. You are (officially) a board member for one or two hours a month at the most; you are a “fan” of your organization 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Your personal enthusiasm can be contagious; find ways to spread the “good news” about your nonprofit. (A two-word hint: Elevator Speech.)
Speak Up: Participate in board meeting discussions and debates about issues. Listen to others and consider their viewpoints. Focus on the needs of the organization and help others do the same. Make decisions that are in the organization’s best interests (rather than, for instance, decisions that cost the least or require the least amount of work).
Follow Up: Board membership comes with specific responsibilities, as well as opportunities to make a real difference. Jump at the chance to add value to the organization through your work on its behalf. And take the time to assess your personal worth as a board member and the overall effectiveness of the board. (Two-Minute Exercise: Honestly answer these four questions: 1. Do I continue to be strongly interested in the mission of the organization? 2. Do I continue to provide effective support and assistance? 3. Will my continuing membership strengthen the Board and the caliber of the Board? 4. Do I continue to feel personally rewarded for my service?)
Lift Up: Your community relies on you and on your organization to provide needed services. Often, provision of these services means your organization must participate in fundraising. Look at that as yet another opportunity to make a difference and achieve your mission. There is a lot you can contribute without having to “make the dreaded ask.”
Shore Up: Make your own financial contribution. Think about it: if you are not willing to give, why should anyone else be?
Last Up: From beginning to end, always act with the best interests of your organization as your first and only priority.