11 Benefits of Serving on a Board of Trustees How You Can Make a Difference
Should you serve on a non-profit board of trustees? I want to share my thoughts on the advantages of being a board member. The main reason I serve on non-profit boards is because I want to contribute to causes I believe in. If you have not had such a role, I hope you will find this information helpful in considering whether or not you want to serve.
In the last five years, I have been invited to sit on several boards of trustees. I currently sit on the boards of three wonderful organizations: Hope Literacy, Buckner International, and Christian Alliance Institute of Theology. It is said that if you can be productive elsewhere, you should not take time to serve on a board. Or, if you are in your most productive work years (30 to 65), you should not sit on a board. Indeed many people who serve on boards are retired or have “extra time” to devote. As a physician and business leader, my plate is full. So what is my motivation to serve on three boards?
- Helping a leader I believe in. In my case, I believe in the CEO of the three organizations I serve with. I know them. I know their character, their heart, and their history. I want to help them and their organizations succeed. In a way, I feel like I am in the trenches with a friend, doing good together.
- Serving an organization I believe in. Buckner International has been around for over 150 years. It is well-organized, well-run, and effective in its mission to serve vulnerable children. When I decided to join their board, I knew that I would not be wasting my time. I joined a winning team.
- Supporting a meaningful cause. Hope Literacy teachers English as a Second Language to anyone who cannot read proficiently, mostly refugees. They do it through church volunteers. Can you imagine if you couldn’t read? It’s an almost hopeless situation. This organization brings hope to people. For that reason, I love the name Hope Literacy.
- Being privy to the inner workings of other organizations. This is an advantage if you love leadership and organizational effectiveness, as I do. It goes without saying that what I see in any particular organization has to remain confidential. However, as a student of leadership, it is fascinating to see how an organization I am not in charge of is run.
- Having the opportunity to help and contribute. On some boards, my ideas have altered the course of the organization in a more positive direction. On other boards, I have had less of an impact. Simply being there and standing beside people I believe in gives me satisfaction. My goal with each membership position is to generate new ideas and ways of thinking to challenge the status quo. Of course, there are other roles for a board member that I must do. For example, oversight (the technical/legal term is “fiduciary role”), means making sure the leaders of the organization are good stewards of their resources and the donations the public makes.
- Not being “the person in charge.” In my work, most of the time I am the person in charge. It is nice sometimes to be in a professional setting where I am not the final decision-maker. It gives me a chance to practice being a good “follow-leader,” leading sideways and up. It gives me another perspective of leadership, one that is important for me to understand as well.
- Networking with peers and other leaders. Many times as leaders we are surrounded by the same people in our organizations or our circles of influence. On boards, I have met a variety of people. It has created new relationships and expanded my perspectives. I have met judges, orchestra players, charity officials, lawyers, accountants, and on the whole amazing human beings.
- Changing your routine. Breaking away from my day, on average once a month to attend a board meeting is sometimes refreshing. To break my routine and the careful structure I have created for my life adds a mental and emotional respite.
- Meeting people who are more capable than you. Non-profit boards attract accomplished people. One benefit of being part of these communities is to meet people ahead of you in different areas.
- Learning how boards should run. Who knows, maybe one day you may want to start your own non-profit. Wouldn’t it be nice to know how boards function or should function so you can apply it to your own organization, or another organization you want to help, in the future? Being a part of different boards allows you to learn the principles of governance (the technical words that are used to describe the work of a board).
- Building your board resume. Some boards, those of bigger organizations, will not let you become a member unless you have experience being on other boards. You may have to start with a smaller organization that does not require that, and learn how to be a board member first.
I recently read a great book on how great boards function, in case you are interested in the topic: Governance as Leadership. In future articles, I want to talk about what the roles of the board should be and how to have an effective board.
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