Published in Tallahassee Democrat on July 30, 2011
Last week I was asked whether board members should make personal contributions to the organizations they serve. Absolutely.
Is there ever any exception to this? There could be, but be very careful about this and also very respectful of the confidentiality of the board members who have the exception. In addition, those board members should be able to work toward financial contributions by selling tickets to events or gathering silent auction items or selling foursomes in a golf tournament.
The same person asked me how much a board member’s contribution should be. I think it should be a sacrificial gift. This means that it should be a little painful, not enough to make you cry but enough so that you feel the commitment that you are making. It is my experience that when I have given at that level to an organization, I have much less hesitation to ask others to do the same.
In your board member agreements, detail what the expected board contribution will be. These agreements should be sent to every potential board member and should be clearly referenced so that when a board member says yes to service, they know exactly what they are saying yes to.
These agreements also should outline what the expectations are for attendance to board meetings, committee service and more. If you aren’t using a board member agreement, email me and I’ll send you several different versions you can adapt for your own use.
Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to present an all-day institute to a group of executive directors and their board presidents in another state. It was so much fun and I enjoyed the group very much. I saw some very interesting dynamics there. Most pairs had obvious synergy and respect for each other and their work.
In some there was a dominator and one wouldn’t let the other one speak. My favorite was an ED who had been fired by her board only two days before, showed up and sat alone while her board president sat on the other side of the room trying to sink into the floor.
The institute reminded me how important the president/ED relationship is, and how much power this one volunteer has. It’s incredibly strange that organizations often hand this power over to people who have absolutely no training for that role. Sometimes they become president simply because no one else wants to do it.
Fortunately for everyone, there are many talented presidents who work hard every day to make sure they are doing the best job they can. I’ve been very fortunate to work with several high-quality presidents and I hope you have as well.
Speaking of highly qualified board presidents, I had a conversation with Kathy Bye that just tickled me. Kathy has been my board president in two different organizations and she is among the best of the very best. She is president of Leadership Tallahassee and was telling me how much she loves it and how much she is enjoying working with Barbara Boone, the ED there.
As I ponder that conversation now, I realize that it touched me because Kathy was doing that thing that every board member needs to be great at. In a single conversation she told me she values the time she gives to the organization and that she respects the staff leadership.
That message is so powerful and has such a significant impact on the view that the listener has of the organization. So in honor of Kathy, I am challenging every board member in Tallahassee to tell someone this week why they love the service they give to their organization. If you already do this on a regular basis, thank you.
— Kelly Otte is executive director of the PACE Center for Girls, which provides girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy. She has more than 25 years of service to a wide variety of nonprofits in various capacities. Contact her at email@example.com.