If you are asked to join a charity’s board, your first reaction may be one of satisfaction. However, you need to think about this commitment.
Being on a charity board carries a certain allure and a certain level of prestige. There’s the status, the professional development it offers, that special access to other influential leaders and, of course, a great sense of satisfaction that comes from giving something back to a cause close to your heart.
Being a charity board member also carries some hefty responsibilities and duties. Such a role requires lots of energy and drive.
Here are some of the questions you should answer before saying yes or no:
- Do you believe in the cause that the charity is supporting?
- What impact has the charity had on the ground? If it has not had the desired effect, why not?
- What is the legal status of the organisation?
- What would be your responsibilities under its constitution?
- Why are you being asked, and what role will you play?
- What is the financial status of the organisation, and is it solvent?
- How sustainable are the funding sources?
- What is the average length of tenure on the board for Trustees?
- Do you have the skills to be able to make a real impact and an effective contribution?
- What is the time commitment required to make a difference?
(By the way, this list is by no means comprehensive.)
I want to focus on how important it is to work out how your skillset and experience equips you to serve on a board rather than serve as an executive.
The former is a strategy and policymaking role that gives life to the strategic direction of the organisation and makes it integral to the company’s culture.
The latter focuses on matters operational. Many new trustees struggle with understanding the role of the board versus the executive’s role, which can lead to unnecessary tensions.
Trustees often [wrongly] focus on the operational aspects of running the charity, which will frustrate the executives.
Finally, identify your point of difference, that ‘X factor’ that you can add to the board’s skill mix. But remember, whatever it is, it needs to be over and above the two givens – an understanding of a set of accounts and being au fait with governance. These basics are a minimum requirement.
If you don’t feel you are getting the answers required, keep plugging away till you do and then if you are comfortable, sign up and, if not, locate another charity that can.