Monday, June 30, 2014

A Nonprofit Board Member's Bill of Rights

(Purchased from Bigstock Photo)

I felt compelled to write last week's "Get over it" post to articulate a few realities about nonprofit governance that exist but aren't necessarily exciting and not always conducive to feeding the deeper motivations that drive many of us to serve. I did it so we all could move on to the meaningful work that impacts our communities and inspires us.

But even as I wrote that post, I knew that it could be used as evidence that nonprofit boards really are slackers who don't know or care about their "real" responsibilities, who are lazy and unwilling to do what "we" need them to do so "we" can succeed. That is not at all the case. It certainly is not what I intend to convey or support on this blog. I published that post and immediately felt compelled to write a counterpoint.

In the spirit of the holiday week here in the U.S., I present my "Nonprofit Board Member's Bill of Rights." The individual "rights" will be familiar to regular readers, because they're part of the larger message of my advocacy for nonprofit boards. I offer them as a collection today, as a bookend to last week's post.

The Nonprofit Board Member's Bill of Rights

We the community leaders who serve on nonprofit boards, in order to govern toward a more perfect vision of the future and a fulfilling mission that advances that vision, require an environment conducive to fulfilling the responsibilities entrusted to us. To that end, we have the inalienable right to the following:

1) A clear understanding of our responsibilities, outlined before we join the board, and clarity about why we are being asked to serve. We have the right to participation in a thoughtful recruitment process, where a governance-focused job description is presented so we can make an informed decision about accepting the invitation to serve. We also have the right to know the specific skills, knowledge, connections, etc., that make us the right fit - at this time - for the board.

2) A rich, multi-stage, user-friendly orientation process that prepares us for active participation and, ultimately, leadership on the board. The information presented in the recruitment process is only the beginning. We deserve both a thorough initial orientation (including supporting materials) after we join the board and ongoing support in the initial months of our service.

3) Ongoing access to information, stories, etc., that provide the context and data to make the best decisions possible for the agency and the community. We deserve timely, ready access to that information, in formats that are accessible to us and conducive to effective decision making.

4) Work that draws upon our strengths as community leaders. Our governance work is future-focused and impact-driven, grounded in questions of consequence. The work that we do does not waste our time. We come together to govern and lead, not wallow in management minutiae. We expect that that work will draw upon our individual strengths, expertise and skill sets. We expect to use our individual connections to broaden the base of supporters for our mission in engaging and appropriate ways.

5) Meetings that are intellectually and creatively challenging.  We have the right to agendas built around questions about the future, that demand our active participation, and that give us space to reflect and create. We deserve work environments that expect us to contribute regularly, as equal members of the governance team.

6) Experiences that bring us closer to the mission we are charged with advancing. The more vividly we understand the agency's work and the lives touched, the better we are able to communicate that impact to others and the stronger our own commitment becomes. We have the right to build our knowledge, not only in formal training events but in authentic experiential learning opportunities throughout our board service.

7) Expectations that are appropriately high. We have the right to set our own high bar, drawing from our significant collective expertise. We have the right to all of the forms of support required to fulfill those expectations.

8) A strong, effective partnership with our CEO. We recognize the complementary leadership responsibilities that each brings to the table, and we collaborate to ensure that both parties receive what we need to fulfill them. We neither receive our marching orders from our chief executive nor dictate from above.

9) Recognition that is personally meaningful. We deserve regular acknowledgment that what we bring to the board is valued. We deserve acknowledgment that different people prefer that recognition in different formats, and that our individual preferences should be appropriately accommodated.

10) Respect for our contributions as community leaders. We have the right to be supported and valued, not treated as inconveniences. Your power and potential rests, in large part, on our power and potential. Respect us, support us, and we will lead in ways that bring you closer to your mission than you could ever achieve on your own.


Norm King said...


Debra Beck, EdD said...

Thanks, Norm!

Jane said...

This should be given out at every board orientation!

I've just been made a manager of the Boards and Advisers group on Linked In. It's mostly about corporate boards but I can't think of a better first post in my new role than this! It doesn't take much tweaking to fully apply the list to new corporate directors.

Debra Beck, EdD said...

That means a lot, Jane. Thank you! I usually see endless connection between corporate and nonprofit boards (and coopt what I can from the corporate side :) ). I hadn't yet stopped to think about this particular post from a corporate perspective. You're promoting me to reflect on that today. Glad you found something of value here.