- Set Your Intentions
- Establish a positive brand for yourself
- Build relationships and rapport
Get Clear On Your Long Term Intentions
Take some time to get clear on why you are helping this particular organization. Use the results of this reflection as a guide for all of your work on this Board. Here are some sample assessment questions to use before, during, and after a Board membership term:
To what extent will I, am I, or did I:
____ Demonstrate that this is an opportunity for me to serve
____ Learn about, and align with, the mission, vision, and strategy
____ Serve the organization and community
____ Make those I interacted with more energized, passionate, knowledgeable, and effective
If upon reflection you recognize that you are driven largely by personal gain (elevating your businesses profile, for example), and that may cause you to take more than you give, consider shifting your priorities. If you can’t, consider renegotiating your relationship with the organization through a conversation with the Board chair and Chief Executive.
Ask a Lot of Simple, “I’m New Around Here” Questions
Despite all the writing and certainty from people like me, there are very few absolutes about Boards membership. If you show up with a rigid recipe book of Board behavior and attitude, or a textbook on “The Right Way to Run a Nonprofit”, you’ll probably cause difficulty, because you will be immediately taking a position that a lot of what this Board and organization are doing is wrong. Not a good start.
Spend most of your energy observing, listening, and learning. Seek first to understand who the board and organization actually are. The organization you just volunteered to help is best understood in the context of its size, sector, ambitions, and stage of development. Ask about the history behind things.
You’ll learn a lot, the organization will reflect on its answers, and the humility you exhibit will go a long way to establishing rapport with the staff and other Board members. The staff will open up to curiosity and nonjudgmental behavior (and close down to ego and evaluative behavior).
First Contributions: Help with the Management of the Board Culture
The temptation is to dive right in to the agenda… issues of strategy, policy, finance, etc. Instead, ask the Board Chair, ED/CEO, and key Board members about their intentions and ambitions for the Board culture, and how you can help. Topics can range from meeting mechanics to interpersonal and group dynamics.
Board Culture is a shared responsibility of all members and you can probably make immediate contributions. At first, you just want the staff and fellow Board members to feel good that you are there. Let them see you as a positive influence on others, and as optimistic. Focus on assets more than liabilities. Being really smart can come later.
A series that addresses critical challenges of Board Membership:
Part 1, Joining & the Honeymoon Period
Part 2, After the Honeymoon
Part 3, Assuming Committee Leadership
Part 4, Winding Down, Signing Off