Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Before I die (or finish my board term): Leaving a personal nonprofit governance legacy

While they prepare for final exams next week, students at my home university are getting a tad philosophical (or maybe expressing anxiety about those finals...).

As I've watched different students make their own public declarations in this space the past few days, I've also been wondering how board members might respond to a variation on the same theme:

Before I die (or, at least, complete my term of service), I want to... 

How would I respond to that same open ended statement? Reflecting back on my own board experiences, I realize that I usually spent more energy up front focused on the task at hand: what I needed to learn, do, be to successfully uphold the commitments I was assuming as a new member. 

Obviously, those are appropriate goals for new members. But what if I - and you - looked just a bit further into the future at the beginning of each new board service term? 

What if we also took a few moments to complete that variation on our students' statement:

Before I complete my term of service, I want to...

Two questions immediately come to mind:

  • What, exactly, would the response(s) be?
  • How might contemplating one's individual legacy from the beginning help to shape that legacy by the time one wraps that up board service?

At the board level comes at least one question:

  • How might open conversations about our collective impact build and expand it as new members arrive and depart?

Specific responses will be uniquely individual, as they should be. But in general, introducing this reflection has the potential to foster the following:

  • Increased awareness that board membership involves more than showing up for meetings prepared. It invites conscious attention to ultimate impact - what we, specifically, can accomplish when we fully commit to all that effective governance requires.
  • More deliberate attention to what we, specifically, can contribute: our life experiences, our passion for the work, our connections that we can make between our networks and our organization, etc.
  • Acknowledgment that we have legitimate need to know that our investments of time, energy and other resources mattered - to us as much as the organization.

I offer this statement to be completed, and this process, as an additional tool for reflection and for more deliberate attention to another factor that facilitates fulfilling and effective governance performances and experiences.

What thoughts come to mind as you think about either your own response to that statement or about institutionalizing a step like this into your board processes?

1 comment:

Anne W. Ackerson said...


Just getting around to reading your post. I think there's great merit in framing one's impact from a future perspective. It allows a board member to focus her interests and skills on a overarching result rather than simply responding to issues of the moment. It's easy for board members to come to meetings, react while there, then leave and not think much of the organization until the next meeting. Determining in advance what impact one wants to make during board service moves one from reactionary to proactive mode.
It's the best possible use of skills, interest and time.

I'm giving renewed thought to my own board career and I plan to share your post with the executive committee of the board on which I serve with the hope that it will spark similar reflection among them.