Saturday, March 16, 2013

Big board birthday: 30 years of governance

Happy board birthday to me.

Thirty years ago - more or less - my nonprofit governance journey began. I had no idea what boards did. I had no idea I was joining a board (True!). But the journey I launched at age 24 in Sheridan, Wyoming, changed my life in ways too powerful to fully articulate.

Yes, my introduction to board work came as a surprise. My friend and news editor, Linda, decided I needed to get involved in the community. In a recruiting tactic I'd never recommend to others, she greeted me one morning with, "Congratulations. You've been elected to the Women's Center board."

Since I hadn't applied to serve on the Women's Center board, that was a bit of a surprise.

"Congratulations," she continued. "You've been elected secretary."


"By the way," she said. "You'll be attending our victim advocate training. It's required for all board members."


Since I knew better than to question (or doubt) Linda, I assumed my seat on the board, took notes, and attended the training.

While I remember every word she uttered that morning, I don't recall exactly when it took place. What I do remember - and what I count as my board anniversary - was March 16, 1983, the middle of the mandatory training that turned my worldview completely upside down and inside out.

That I remember that particular date, and that I use it to mark the start of my board commitment, always has been an arbitrary choice. As I dug into board service and found that I liked the work, it was as good a day as any to acknowledge, even though it wasn't my actual anniversary.

With 30 years of wisdom - and more than a few boardroom scars - behind me, it makes perfect sense. Sitting in that training on March 16, I came face to face with the reason the Women's Center existed: the mission I hadn't yet understood. It clashed with my own limited life experiences and exploded everything I thought I knew about the world.

It also compelled me. I began to understand why I was called to serve. I made the Women's Center mission my own. I was ready to lead.

My time on that first board was short, as life led me to another community and new opportunities to serve. But it embedded in my heart and my psyche two messages that have kept me going for three decades.

One, board service is a unique leadership opportunity, a call to shape and advance a better future for ourselves and others. It carries with it remarkable responsibilities that should be respected and supported.

Two, when board members connect deeply to the mission - when they have a chance to make it their own - they are transformed and gain capacity to transform.

My wish for all board members is that you have that experience at least once. It may not happen with every board on which you serve. That certainly hasn't been the case for me. But when you have that one glorious moment when you get it, you get to see the nobility and the power of nonprofit governance.

Boards matter. The work that we do matters. We deserve the chance to capture that vision for ourselves and to have the support we need to transform our communities.

I am grateful for Linda, for the Women's Center board and staff who launched my journey, and for all who have allowed me to join them in making a difference in the world over the last 30 years.''

Image purchased from Big Stock Photo and Vector Art.


lejg said...

I'll gladly take the credit for initiating a launch ... but you yourself with your own clarified vision rose above your shock into service that has changed life around you! So glad you accepted the challenge!
Linda Janssen Gjere

Kevin Monroe said...

Hey Debra,

I grateful that you embraced this journey and all of the learning that it has brought you. Add to that the lessons, insights, and wise observations you've shared with others and it is indeed a reason to pause, reflect, and celebrate.

I'm grateful our paths crossed allowing us to connect and become friends and colleagues.

Best wishes for continued success,


Debra Beck, EdD said...

I'm humbled, Linda, but also eternally grateful that you knew (even before I did) that I needed that life-changing experience.

That time, that place, and that particular mission absolutely were meant to transform me - in ways that I am still experiencing.

Thank you.

Debra Beck, EdD said...


One of the greatest gifts in all of this is that the path that Linda launched has been having the chance to meet, befriend and work with world changers from around the globe.

How different my life would be without wise and wonderful friends (like you!) to challenge, inspire and inform me.

Thank you for being part of that journey, both what has already passed and what lies ahead.

Alice Korngold said...

Happy 30th board birthday to you Debra. How fortunate for us and the board governance universe that you are so generous with your insights and learnings. I cherish you as a colleague!

Debra Beck, EdD said...

Thirty years ago, I never could have envisioned something as wonderful as your friendship, Alice. That we have this common ground, of supporting boards and board members, as a foundation truly is special to me. Thank you!