Beyond the duties of care, loyalty, and obedience, there is, I suggest, a fourth board duty: the duty of imagination -- Alice Korngold
I love this quote, not only is it insightful but it conveys the inspirations and aspirations of people wanting to serve their communities as nonprofit Board members. They are excited and moved by the vision of what's possible.
However often when we ask people to serve on Boards, as soon as they say "yes", we tend to gloss over the "imaging what's possible" and immediately hand them a contract and set up an orientation focusing on the expected commitments; the should's: "you should fundraise","you should invite people to our annual dinner" and the musts: "you must attend at least 75% of the meetings", "you must make a personal contribution", and "you must serve on a committee." People are enthusiastic to fulfill those obligations: They want to be responsible, committed board members, they want to support the organization as advocates, ambassadors, friend/fund raisers and they are happy to attend productive meetings. Although, most importantly they want to know that they are going to engage in moving the organization's mission and vision forward and that their service is valued. They want to know that the responsibilities, contracts, fundraising, and meetings are going to support the movement of the vision the organization has for the community.
There are some questions I ask people when they are making the decision to serve on a Board: Is this an organization whose mission and vision I am passionate about? Is this an organization whose culture and values I share? And is this an organization who would benefit from the talents, skills, and leadership I would bring to the organization?
I also recommend they engage in this conversation with the organization's leadership and ask: How do you move your mission/vision forward? How do you live your values? How do you engage in strategic planning? What is your business model? How do you coach, mentor and train Board members? How do you address mission, vision and values during regular Board meetings? What is the process for dialogue? How is participation nurtured? How do you develop and support new Board members? How do you structure committees to ensure the work of the Board gets done? And, how does the organization celebrate its accomplishments?
There are so many talented, innovative, and energetic people who want to serve on Boards; however, they are looking for experiences that have meaning, build their team-building and leadership skills and enhance their sense of community. Organizations who can engage in this dialogue and support the energy and talents of prospective new Board members will go far in enhancing their mission and deepening their leadership talent-base.