Recently, a OneHope Vice President was asked to serve on the board for another ministry and asked me what considerations I have when I’m asked.
I believe it’s good for every Christian leader to have board experience and share in governance responsibilities. However, this must be weighted with my primary responsibilities to existing obligations as a leader in my own ministry, family, and community. If I have capacity to add something valuable, there are a couple of things I always consider:
Calling. Do I feel a calling to the mission and vision of the organization? Is it something I believe in?
Type. What kind of a Board is it: Advisory, Consultative, or Directive? Transparency is important so you know what your true responsibility will be. For me, if it is called a Board of Directors, then it must be Independent and the final authority of the organization. Many ministries have boards with a majority of members who are not independent: family members, employees, friends who have conflicts of interest or undisclosed third party transactions. I don’t want to give the impression of true accountability associated with my name if the board is not indeed the final authority.
Board Development. What stage of development the board is in? Is it at a Founder, Transitional, Independent, or Generative stage? This allows me to measure my involvement for the level and type of engagement that will be expected of me.
Personal Consideration. Why do they want me on the board? What skills, talent, knowledge, influence, and experience do they believe I have that will bring value to the board? Are their expectations correct? Can I deliver and provide the value that they anticipate?
Practical Consideration. What practically will I need to contribute? Every board member should provide a level of time, talent and treasure, but not necessarily at the same levels. Some members are primarily there as financial stakeholder donors. Some are needed because of their professional credentials; accounting, legal, educator, specialist in a core function of the organization, etc. Others have time to give to walk alongside the leadership and lend support. Out of these three what are they expecting you to give? What committees and activities will you be asked to serve on? How many meetings and how long will they be? What do they expect you to contribute financially? (I expect my board members to place OneHope as one of the top three non-profits they donate to every year). Do they expect you to raise money? Due to my role at OneHope I am clear up-front that raising funds for another organization would be confusing and potentially a conflict of interest. What are the term limits? There should be a distinct beginning and end to my time on the board that allows me or them to on-board and off-board members. Clear expectations are essential from the beginning.
Chemistry. Do I have natural chemistry with the leader and culture of the organization? Although independence doesn’t require this, the more you enjoy those you work with the happier and more harmonious your time on the board will be. However, it’s important to remember that getting too close to the organization isn’t wise. Members should be ‘nose in, hands off’.
Diversity. Does the Board have good diversity of race, gender, profession, age, culture, background, etc. that reflects the communities and constituents the mission and vision of the organization are going to serve? This is hard to do and takes time. Ideally, a board attracts the best possible talent it can to fulfill the three primary responsibilities it has: Mission fidelity, financial security, and acquisition and care of the leader. Accomplishing these with a board made up of representative diversity should always be the goal.
Investment. How do they invest in their board members? Do they have good directors & officers insurance? Leadership growth is the only thing you should expect from service on a non-profit board. You should not be motivated by prestige, position, connections or any other motivator; except that your investment will help grow you as a leader. I always look at who else is serving on the board. Will my time with them be edifying and are they people who, through our interaction on the board, teach me things I don’t know? Will the organization invest in board education by spending time in the agenda to grow our subject matter expertise? Do they plan on doing board retreats? I recommend one every 3-5 years to accomplish 3 things: Unity, Inspiration & Strategy. Are spouses invited to attend?
These are not all equal in weight and boards are always in transition and growth, so perhaps don’t expect all of them to be in place. However, if there is no intent or desire in the leader or board to move toward growth in these areas I would think twice about serving. At the end of the day be led by the Spirit – does He want you to serve? If He does, He will give you what you need to serve His Kingdom and it will providentially enrich you.