When signing up for board work--whether paid or volunteer—it helps everyone if you are clear with yourself about how much you’re willing to put into the engagement. Beyond that, you do yourself and others a favor by sharing this with your fellow board members right up front.
Know your type . . .
Granted there are many levels of participation, and individual commitment tends to fluctuate over time. Yet, I’ve recently noticed in my own work that at any given time, and over longer periods, board members fall into a range of three averages:
2. "Participator/Discussers" will tend to talk during meetings, offering insights, opinions, and suggestions, but not to sign up proactively for tasks or subcommittee work.
3. "Contributors" bring their caring, time, and effort, and take on responsibilities that actually move the board forward in a meaningful way.
During my term of several years on the executive committee of a community board, it would have helped me as board chair--and the board overall--to know this is how people tend to shake out. Absent such a distinction, I made sure subcommittee assignments / projects were spread evenly, which meant many of them were taken on by Just Show Uppers and Participator/Discussers. Needless to say, a fair number of those things just didn't get done. As they say: "hindsight is 20 / 20."
It's been about 15 months since I rotated off that board, and this three-levels of engagement distinction became clear to me today. I was invited back to facilitate an annual retreat for the outgoing and incoming boards together. These wonderful folks sparked a kind of epiphany about this during a conversation about the challenges of accountability, doing what you say you will do, personal responsibility, and keeping other board members informed.
So I owe the 2007-2009 COC in San Francisco my thanks. The lesson learned may seem obvious, but it’s worth stating: knowing what type of board member you are willing to be is going to help everyone, and the organization overall. If that’s not your role as a board member, what is?