Do We “Sell” Board Positions Without Meaning To?

Do We “Sell” Board Positions Without Meaning To?

I think it’s pretty well established that you wouldn’t want to make a board position some kind of reward for giving money. “Buying one’s way onto the board” even sounds terrible.

So I was surprised the other day when I asked a land trust board member how they came to be asked to serve on the board. “I don’t know,” she answered. “I guess I had just volunteered enough.” In other words, her board position was a reward for volunteering time.

So I began to wonder, is this really any different?

I mean, we do this all the time, don’t we? This person is on the board because they volunteer their time as an attorney; that person because they volunteer as an accountant; the other because they volunteer as an event planner.

Why not “because they volunteer their money?”

Actually this is a rhetorical question, but one we should look at. So let’s turn the question on its head: Why WOULD you want to ask someone to be on your board? This led to a lively discussion among several colleagues here in Wisconsin. Here’s the list we came up with:

Because they have:

  • No fear in asking questions
  • Good listening skills
  • The ability to think strategically
  • The ability to think analytically
  • Good judgment
  • A sense of humor

And because they are fully committed to the work of the organization. I would argue that, because we ask board members to raise money from others, it is VERY important that they themselves give money also – maybe not a specific amount, but they are at least committed enough to give something. In other words, volunteering money is an important part of board membership, but secondary to other qualities board members must bring to the organization.

And I would add a final reason to ask someone to join your board – because they have access to others.

If I write you an email, or leave you a phone message, and you return it, I have “access” to you. When I join your board, I bring my “access” with me. Assuming I am willing to exercise the access I represent, my access is added to the access already present around the table.

To the extent my access is redundant with the access the organization already has – in other words we know all the same people – I’m not helping much. To the extent I represent access to a new group, I might be able to help a great deal.

So what qualities would make your list? How would you improve mine?



Photo credit: Kuntz Lake by Walt Kaesler.

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