I know what you’re thinking. Wouldn’t I want people to want to serve on a board of directors? Yes, but I only want the right people. Being on a board might be a voluntary position, but it comes with a lot of responsibilities and some level of selflessness. If these reasons you should not serve on a board don’t make you think twice, than great. You should really throw your name in the hat. Today. Otherwise, have an honest conversation with your chamber (and yourself) before you commit.
Not Just a Résumé builder
Being a board member is not a show-up-once-and-put-it-on-your-resume type of position. You will probably spend several hours a month assisting the organization you join. From meetings and committees to supporting events, there are many different ways that board members fill their role. Chambers are nonprofits with very limited staffs & budgets and board members are hugely important volunteers.
If you’re joining a board so you can tell an organization how or where to spend their money, then don’t. You’re wasting everyone’s time, including yours.
Boards may sign off on the budget, but shouldn’t be focused on spending money or micro-managing. What IS important is building reserves and practicing fiscal responsibility on behalf of the chamber.
Additionally, you should not serve on a board because you want more say on their personnel. While the board does hire the CEO, and the CEO does answer to the board – you shouldn’t micro-manage any chamber staff. Depending on size, the board may not even interact with other staff than the CEO.
The board’s role is to focus on strategy. It’s the CEO’s role is to actually run the chamber with the board as a guide.
Some chambers do expect you to actively sell a certain number of event tickets, sponsorships, and/or memberships. Other chambers may not set requirements, but you should still be able to assist someone if it comes up. Which brings me to:
Understanding the Organization & Membership
If you’re on the board of directors, you’ll be expected to understand the organization well enough to ‘sell’ it. Or at least answer questions.
For example, if you’re a Chamber Board Member you’ll have to answer hard questions on the spot like “How has chamber made a difference for your business?” or “What does the chamber do?”. It’s also personally frustrating when board members asks generic questions that I regularly answer in my email newsletter.
Fortunately this is usually an easy fix if you have a great board orientation, or just attend an upcoming member orientation.
Board Members are also expected to counteract complaints like “Well, the chamber hasn’t done anything for me.” Or if you’re on site of an event, members see you in a leadership role and will complain to you. I’ve seen board members field both vendor and customer complaints to later pass onto chamber staff. While the chamber staff can help you prepare for this, just know it may come up.
Not only will you be expected to meet with other board members on a monthly basis (probably), you’ll also (probably) have to join a committee. Committees are extra time commitments where you work on chamber projects and then have to report on to the regular board meeting.
Chamber Boards discuss a variety of topics, from community projects to recommendations on how the chamber could be more efficient. While you don’t need to be an expert in every field, you will be expected to have some level of business smarts to contribute to some topic. One way this is simplified is through various committees.
When you show up to the monthly meeting, you’ll vote on stuff. While it sounds easy, you’ll be expected to read the minutes, reports, etc. before the actual meeting. While the time you spend on this will vary greatly, I assure you there is lot going on at chambers behind the scenes.
Decisions Not in Your Favor
When you’re on the Chamber Board, you’ll have to base your decisions on what’s best for the chamber itself – not your business or personal preference. For many, this is easier said than done. If you’re a board member, please ask yourself “is this good for the chamber or for me,” or excuse yourself. You can always abstain and cite a “conflict of interest.”
As a board member you’re a face of the chamber. You will likely be expected to attend at least some chamber events. The obvious events are networking and ribbon cuttings, but some board members will also be asked to attend meetings with local and state officials.
Once you’re introduced as a Board Member, that’s what the public will see you as. Whether you’re at a baseball game with the family or leaving reviews on Facebook, people are now judging you as a professional, and associating your actions with the chamber.
You know that phrase about being rewarding good work with more work? Well, this is it. If you’re a great board member, then you will totally be peer-pressured into being the next Board Chairman. In addition to normal board member stuff, you’ll have to spend even more time with the CEO serving as the board liaison.
Grain of Salt
Of course, your chamber staff knows you have your actual business or job to do, so we don’t expect everyone to be at every event. And you’re a real live human, so no one expects you to be good at everything. Different people bring different skills, experiences, etc. to the table – which is exactly what we want.
My biggest point I want you to take away is that if you want to serve on a board – actually serve it.
Your main value as a board member may not have even been listed above, and that’s okay. I just want board members everywhere to be more involved with their chamber or organization – not just showing up to the occasional meeting.
Which are you?
If you are a current board member, then thanks for your help! I hope these helped refresh your mindset in helping your chamber work towards positive success. And if you are interesting in being a better board member, I recommend reading The Imperfect Board Member and/or having your chamber joining Board Source.
Potential board members – if these reasons you should not serve on a board are a cinch for you, then you’re amazing and I want you to talk to your local chamber ASAP!
If you still want to help your chamber, but the above makes you hesitate about serving on a board of directors, then start small. You can always ask about being a regular volunteer, Ambassador, or serving on a committee. Talk your to local chamber and see where you might fit in. You don’t have to serve on the board to positively impact your community.
You can always revisit the idea later. You are an ever-growing and changing professional. While serving on a board of directors may not be the best fit now, you might be more inclined to serve in the future.