Twelve board practices I try to live by

  1. Only choose board service if you are willing to carry the moral obligation of societal betterment on your shoulders.
  2. Serve organizations whose vision and values you are passionate about (or will quickly grow to be).
  3. Limit your board service – two boards at one time is usually enough.
  4. Know what you are getting into. Vet the organization as it vets you.
  5. There are many organizations of many sizes that need your help. Choose the one where your talents and passion align with its needs and vision.
  6. Generously leverage your wisdom, strategic sensibility, connections and expertise on behalf of the organization you serve.
  7. Value service, collaborative and consultation.
  8. Keep your eye on community outcomes, insist on high standards of performance and legal and ethical behavior regardless of organization size.
  9. Hold fast to a philanthropic moral compass.
  10. Study the nonprofit sector and the issues you serve.
  11. Observe and respect the boundaries between board roles and staff roles.
  12. Donate at your leadership level (make this organization the top 1 or 2 in your giving).

5 responses to Twelve board practices I try to live by

  1. Sarah Fischler

    Gayle – this is a really thoughtful list and something similar should be included in all trainings/orientations for board members. For number 11, I would add observe and respect. I especially appreciate number 8.

    The cynical side of me, which does come from my experience as a consultant, would say that only about 10 percent of the board members I come across think or behave this way. Room for growth in the sector, for sure.

  2. Gayle Gifford Post Author

    Great addition. I’ll make that change right now.

    When I feel myself getting frustrated, I remember the limitations of my own volunteer service. And I live and breathe governing structures while most volunteers don’t.

    How to make board service simple enough for mere mortals while still rigorous enough to serve their organization well is my personal challenge.

  3. Nancy Iannone

    Good points all Gail! I find more and more as I work with the Pollyanna Principles and Hildy Gottlieb, that focusing on the vision is the key to keeping the rest of the steps aligned. Your post also gave me a nudge about the number of boards I currently sit on. I wrote a blog post some time ago about the overlap in small town boards and determining one’s ability to commit.

  4. Joe Brown

    Thanks for this terrific list, Gayle. Like Sarah, I found myself nodding especially enthusiastically about number 8 and number 11.

    As I neared the end of the list, I found myself wishing there was something more explicitly related to change. I think its a corollary to #6, #8, and #10, and perhaps just a simple addition to #7. A suggestion that board members be open to, catalysts for, and mediators of change. Perhaps the ultimate manifestation of this is knowing when one’s useful service to an organization’s board has run its course and it is time to step aside.

    Thanks for the great post, Gayle.

    • Gayle Gifford Post Author

      Thoughtful comments Joe. I agree. Today’s board member has to enable a flexible adaptive organization that is capable of responding to the change around it. That includes having an open mind to collaboration, joint ventures and different structures.
      And yes, knowing when to go. Equally important.

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