As the Chair of ReSurge International I attended a great event this week called Board Match put on by The Volunteer Center. http://thevolunteercenter.net/?The_Board_Match_NPO The event brings together not for profit organizations looking to add board members and individuals interested in joining a board. There was one moment in the evening where I surveyed the scene, looking out on a trade show like assembly replete with animated conversations and thought how lucky we are for the wonderful spirit of service there is in America.
Well...yes and no...We were lucky and spoke to several qualified candidates who had done their homework on our organization and truly wanted to see how they might add value to our Board and help advance our mission. Although I don't know how many of these folks will follow-up and proceed through our board vetting process, I am confident that our time was well spent.
On the other hand, there were several candidates who responded when asked why they wanted to join a board, that " it was the right move for them in their career". As I used to tell my students at USF, if you only take one thing from the class, take this -- serving on a non-profit board is not about you. Rather it is about 4 things -- to make it easy to remember, it is about the PEGS.
P is the fact that you need to be passionate about the mission. ReSurge transforms lives by providing free reconstructive surgery and medical training, so it is very inspirational, and it was easy for me to feel passionate about the mission. Alternatively, I served on the Board of the American Liver Foundation, a very laudable organization that funds research for liver disease. Having no personal connection to liver disease, it was hard to be a great ambassador for the cause. When I contrast the two Boards,my role and my engagement level, being passionate about the mission makes all the difference.
E is about extrapolating from your experience. As I said in a Ted Talk at my Haas Business School reunion, with the great training we get in our MBA program, we can offer so much to the non profit sector. But your expertise could come from other areas beyond business, including your own volunteer activities. We all have many gifts to offer.
G is for the fact that not only do we offer our expertise, but we gain learnings as well. My first board role was with an emergency homeless shelter for families. Since I was in the human capital space I volunteered to provide some guidance on HR policies and employee benefits. Based on my private sector experience, I was quick to point out that their sick leave allowance was way too generous. I was informed that given all the sicknesses the residents, especially the children, were bringing with them, staff really needed all those sick days. It was a great learning not just about the different workplace cultures, but also how best to make observations - now I ask why first.
S is for supporting governance. It is an adjustment for some new board members to understand that a board governs, it does not manage. The staff runs the place, not the board. The board provides strategic guidance, fiduciary oversight, and supports, selects and evaluates the CEO. Good governance is like the lighting in a museum; you couldn't see the art without the lights, and when its bad, you notice. When it is good it is effective, effortless and elegant.
So if you are considering board service, think of the PEGS and be sure your peg fits the opportunity.