By LaVada English-Drew, MBA
Talent and Organiztional Consultant
County of Santa Barbara
AABLI alumna, Class #10
Serving on a board should be a fulfilling experience tied to your philanthropic beliefs. This is one of the first lessons AABLI students learn.
Have you defined your own beliefs? Are your community and service efforts focused in the areas that mean the most to you? You need to know the answer to these questions because your seat at a desired board table is not free; it costs time, intellectual energy, passion and–most of all–money. If you don’t want to work to bring revenue to the organization, please don’t sit down. Money is a crucial component of your legacy.
Here are four key dynamics:
- Understand Legacy
Your legacy is your mark on the future. It’s how you make some meaning of your existence. It says “I was here. Here is my contribution. My life mattered.” When you accept a board seat, you should have your legacy goal established. Knowing what you want to leave the organization drives the direction of your work.
Many boards require monetary contributions from their members. While any contribution is appreciated, simply writing a check will not leave the organization with a long-term benefit. When you build relationships through benefactor organizations, set up donor endowment funds, establish grant relationships, secure key community partnerships, create sustainable income platforms and build bridges to resources, you are stamping the organization with a measurable legacy.
- Join boards that understand money
AABLI lesson number two: Your board pre-membership vetting process should be thorough. Make sure the board understands its fiduciary responsibilities as well as the principles of transparently handling money. If you don’t see a five- to ten-year strategic financial plan, you may want to run the other way. Some boards are in the early stages of building knowledge, and that’s fair. But do not bring in major funds, corporate sponsorships or key relationships if a board is not ready to manage these resources with the highest level of financial professionalism. Your name and reputation are tied to the board.
That said, make sure you know who’s at the table before you claim your seat. Do the current board members possess a proven high level of integrity? Are they savvy in matters of money? My favorite book, George S. Clason’s The Richest Man in Babylon, advises against taking the advice of a brick maker for any matter other than brick making. Be careful to consider the level of financial sophistication on the board.
- Be Open to Starting Small
Another AABLI lesson: It’s OK to start with a small grass roots organization. If you are new to board membership, make sure you check the board for integrity and dedication. Start with a local charter school or community center. Help it raise funds and build familiarity with money. This could be a great opportunity, as part of your legacy, to partner and establish best practices. The lessons you learn here will carry into your service with larger boards.
- Be a Humbled learner
There is nothing more frustrating than working with board members who are not open to learning and growing professionally. None of us knows everything. The more open you are to gaining knowledge, the greater your chances of leaving an enduring legacy.
Humbled learners attract mentors, supporters and sponsors. To bring resources to your organization, you need these relationships. When they are working well, every time you pull up your seat at the table, your fellow board members know you are there to make a meaningful deposit into your legacy. When you walk away, what you leave on the table will never be forgotten.
This blog is not written by aabli.org or The African American Board Leadership Institute. The author is solely responsible for the content.