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Why Am I on this Board?

I’ve heard this question more than once during my career. It’s the equivelant of waking up next to your spouse and asking, “Why did we get married?” Needless to say, not the morning greeting any of us want.

Well to prevent you from waking up during a Board meeting in the future and asking, “Why am I on this Board?”, we’ve discovered 4 simple questions to ask before you commit to the Board.

1. Why do you want me? Your seeking their motivation for seeking you. Discover your unique quality or characteristic that attracted them to you in the first place.
2. What role do you want me to play? This is similar to a position on the football field – the quarterback and wide receiver are on the same team, but they have two very distinct roles. Confusion is reduced when you know what role you’re playing before the game starts. For our purposes today, we’re going to say all board members assume the role of governing and within the role of governing there are some common positions, including Chair, Treasurer, and Secretary (NOTE: All Board members assume a governing role, but ALL Board members are not fit to be the Chair, Treasurer, or Secretary – guess I’ll write about that one another time.) Now back to the business at hand, some other roles we’ve seen board members asked to play include:

Advocate

Governance Expert

Fundraiser

Image/Face of the Board

Special Liaison

Community Connector

Critical Thinker/Questioner
3. What are my responsibilities**? We consider these the duties associated with being a board member in general, and the duties associated with any specific role you will play. Using our football example – the quarterback and wide receiver are both responsible for memorizing the plays, however; the quarterback is responsible for calling the play and making a good decision on where to throw the ball, the wide receiver is responsible for running his route and catching the ball if it comes to them. The key is they both rely on the other to fulfill their responsibilities. This applies to the Board – members rely on each other to fulfill their individual and collective responsibilities because if one board member “drops the ball” the play is over for the entire team.
4. What expectations do you have of me? This is the result of the Board member fulfilling their responsibilities. The expectation may be a certain amount of money raised, a certain number of colleagues introduced to the organization, attendance at events, etc…. The expectation is the desired result. One reason many people struggle with board service is there aren’t clear expectations, up-front, regarding what the Board and organization expects from each member. So here’s my last football analogy – the quarterback is expected to be able to throw the ball, the wide receiver is expected to be able to catch the ball, the lineman is expected to be able to protect the quarterback, and so on, and so on. They can’t just have the title of the role, they must meet the expectation associated with it. Just like sports, many fail at board service because they wanted the role, but couldn’t handle the responsibilities and expectations that come along with it.

Remember, a quarterback that can’t throw won’t keep his job for long. A receiver that can’t catch won’t keep his job for long and lineman that can’t block won’t keep his job for long. Why??? Because they’re not meeting the expectations of the responsibilities associated with their role. Ask yourself, Am I able to meet the expectations of the responsibilities associated with my role on this Board? If not, then why am I on this Board???

**For a list of sector accepted responsibilities see BoardSource’s 10 Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards.

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