Gold, frankincense, and myrrh – the gifts of the wise men. They followed the Star of Bethlehem to guide them. No GPS. No Siri. It wasn’t an easy journey, but they made it successfully and took their esteemed place in history.

Time, talent, and treasure – the gifts your board members have to offer. Board members don’t always know the way. Your role is to be the star that guides them, illuminates their path.

The board has a common series of roles and responsibilities:

  • Review the organization’s mission to determine if it’s clearly stated and relevant
  • Hiring, evaluating, and supporting organizational leadership
  • Participate in organizational planning, making certain that services match mission
  • Exercising its fiduciary responsibility and ensuring financial resources
  • Confirm that the organization is operating legally and ethically
  • Developing a succession plan for leadership and the board (“what if” scenarios)
  • Representing the organization to the broader public

A seemingly easy recipe, this is the role of the board. Board governance is challenging and too often boards get mired in mundane or routine. This wears away the most critical ingredient of board membership – PASSION. After a while you can see board member’s luster fade. And while passion for the mission is essential, it’s just not enough.

American City Bureau has devoted the last several issues of the Bureau News to the process of developing a culture of philanthropy within your organization. We saved the most essential element for the final chapter – the Board of Directors. These are your champions, the “guardians of your mission,” according to BoardSource CEO, Linda Crompton.

As “guardians of your mission,” how many organizations are using passion as the prime determinant for board membership as opposed to being the lowest common denominator and filling seats passively?

For your board to embody your mission and contribute to a culture of philanthropy, we need to move beyond the list of roles and responsibilities. We need to engage!

I recently conducted a board training session. In preparation for that work I held a series of one-on-one interviews with key board members. I asked how and why they were selected to be on the board. I don’t know. I asked what they thought board membership would be like versus what it is. Umm, I was excited at first. We have a lot of the same meetings. I asked each one if the organization provided an orientation to clarify the roles, responsibilities and expectations of a board member. No.

For guardians of the mission, we certainly don’t treat them like it. Board members seek meaningful work, not mundane. They come bearing gifts, but aren’t sure of the most effective way to share. One board member said I sit in meetings and go to auctions. There’s so much more to it – isn’t there?

Be the star, the guiding light that shows board members the way.