Romer: Board service is a great way to give back
Great communities have great nonprofit organizations, and great nonprofit organizations require great boards of directors. We’re fortunate to have numerous nonprofit organizations in Eagle County focused on key community issues from mental health to youth services to environmental causes to arts and culture — our vibrant nonprofit community runs the gamut of services.
No doubt, success for a nonprofit is very difficult, requires an enormous amount of discipline, hard work and focus. Successful nonprofits also require great governing boards. Board service is different than consulting, and often different from what makes board members successful in their own business endeavors.
Board service is a great way to be engaged and to share your expertise with an organization aligned with your values. Volunteer boards are essential to the success of special districts and nonprofits, yet many have never been taught exactly what a board does.
If success is what people are hungry for, then you as a board member may choose to be guarded with your “magic sauce” and let them know you’re willing to visit about it once — but any more than that you may offer some coaching products that they may invest in that aren’t inexpensive. That’s not how boards work; board service requires time, commitment, and an understanding of governance.
Great boards don’t just happen — they are developed and nourished. Boards have a responsibility to decide what to decide; their job is to sit in the balcony, while the staff’s job is to be on the stage. Successful boards focus on long-term issues while allowing staff to focus on daily operations of the organization. If the board is meddling in daily operations, the board has utterly failed and you’re not doing your job as a board member.
It is often stated that governments and nonprofits “should run more like a business.” Compare a local board (town or nonprofit or special district) and see if they truly operate this way. Are they looking ahead, helping to set direction, focused on the future? I’d bet that Apple’s board talks about China all the time. Most boards would get impatient talking about one thing at every meeting regardless of the importance of that topic.
Boards are often the biggest risk to the success of an organization, yet should be the biggest asset. Successful boards continue to focus on the big picture (strategy and goals), letting staff manage the operations by setting a culture of teamwork and not fear. It is incumbent on the board to help elevate issues that are of the utmost importance and allow the staff the freedom and autonomy to achieve the mission within these parameters.
Board service requires recognition that effective systems have an ecosystem, not an ego-system. Regardless of vote totals, personal brands, or business success, there are no individuals on successful, high-functioning boards. There are only team players who are focused on organizational — not individual — goals. Graveyards, as the saying goes, are filled with important people.
Boards are often filled by individuals who choose to live their lives by being radically generous, by helping others, by pouring passion, fire, experience and knowledge into the next generation or into an organization. This is essential but can also be a downfall to board service.
What you do for yourself is success, but there is a higher level than success. When you invest your time, resources and life into others, it’s called significance. The leaders who invest in others have discovered true fulfillment comes by being significant, not just successful.
Chris Romer is president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. Learn more at http://www.vailvalleypartnership.com.