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3 Lessons I Learned From My First Board Position

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Last week I wrote about how to land your first nonprofit Board of Directors position. But securing your spot at the table is only the first step in a long learning journey.

The real leaning in comes after you are voted in. Making the most out of your term and maximizing your contribution to your community requires you to flex your leadership muscle in a way that isn’t always comfortable, but is absolutely crucial! The lessons that I have learned in the first year of my term have not only made me a more effective board member going into my second year, they have helped me become a more efficient leader at work and a better community organizer.

So, without further ado, here are the three most important lessons I learned from my first board position:

1. Let Go of “Doing”

What I mean by this is that, as a board member, you have an important leadership role within the organization. While your day job might require you to do a lot of the grunt work and might involve a lot of administrative heavy lifting, as a board member your job is to guide the organization at a higher strategic level.

So just because you’re great at writing grants or creating email marketing campaigns doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for you to take on these tasks within the organization. Your job is to look at the bigger picture and the guiding practices and philosophies that will shape the work of the staff (like grant writing and email marketing). The takeaway here is similar to the advice that many new CEOs receive: Your job isn’t to work in the organization, it’s to work on the organization. Getting bogged down in daily minutia of the organization will not only take a toll on your schedule, but it can make it difficult for you to have that unique ‘bird’s eye view’ of the organization that board members need to have.

2. Don’t Overcommit

Have you ever heard the expression “always deliver more than expected”? It’s great advice for all areas of your life, but it’s particularly important on a board. In order to gain the respect of your peers and maintain your credibility, it is imperative that you deliver on all of your promises.

As a young board member, it can be tempting to take on extra tasks and responsibilities in an attempt to “prove” yourself and your worth, but if you take on more than you can handle and aren’t able to deliver, you risk tarnishing your reputation and tanking your credibility. The best way demonstrate your value is to choose one or two things to take ownership of and dedicate your time and energy to doing a phenomenal job on those select projects.

3. Say Thank You

For those of you that have spent time in the nonprofit industry, either as a staff member or a volunteer, you will know that staff are often overworked and underpaid. While you are volunteering your time as a board member, it is important to remember that the staff are the ones that do the “heavy lifting” day in and day out to move the organization forward. Their work is rarely glamorous, and all too often, is thankless.

Take time to thank the staff for their hard work and dedication. When an assistant comes into the boardroom to clear the dishes after a meeting, lend a hand and acknowledge them for their support. Ask questions about how their work is going — take an interest and celebrate their accomplishments.

Making an effort to appreciate the staff is not only the kind thing to do, it is an effective tool for motivating staff and improving morale within the organization.

Being an effective board member isn’t rocket science — it’s about being present, committed, and hard-working. It’s about understanding that your responsibility is to act in the best interest of the organization at all times, and to move the organization forward with every action you take.

Does this make you want to join a board of directors? Tell us in the comments!

Don’t forget to check out another kind of board — take a look at the opportunities on the Levo Jobs Board!


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Thanks for this article! I feel like a lot of people only focus on the path to get on the board, but we don't here much about the next phase. I also think it is especially important to say "Thank You". Everyone wants to feel appreciated in the workplace, and this is such an easy way to show it!

#3 really resonated with me! Thanking those on your team and within your organization who often do the not so "glamorous" work but are the reason for the organization running efficiently. Thanking these people will garner you more respect from them but also is a common courtesy and gives them the dignity that they deserve! The organization morale as a whole is imperative!!!

Thanks for the insight! I don't have a lot of knowledge about what being on a board entails so these are some great suggestions for those who are new to this type of responsibility!

I definitely agree that it is easy to focus on the goal of getting on the board, but not realizing the work it requires afterwards! Thanks for the great advice on the next step

I love that you included saying thank you. It's such a simple act but that's also why some forget to do it. Thanks for sharing your insights! Something we can all take, not just in the boardroom but in everything we do.

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