A Board Service Story By Aaron House

Serving on an ALL-VOLUNTEER board means something very different than serving on a traditional board. It means you’re accountable. It means you’re the workhorse. It means the big ideas you share during monthly discussions might just end up right back in your lap.

“That’s a wonderful suggestion… I’ll write that down as an action items for you this month.”

This is really what happens; they show up in the board meeting minutes in red- your name next to them.

The first time it happens you’re often not sure what to make of it.

“Um.. well, I was just saying that was something we should consider.”

“No no. We think it’s just a smashing great idea. Fan-Tas-Tic. We can’t wait to see what you put together to present next month”

“I’m sorry, to present?

And then it happens- you find yourself talking in italics. Not sure how to get out of it.

Wanting to say,

“I’m really busy this month, I don’t have time to do all the prerequisite research required to pull this off, to put together a proper presentation, to make this idea into an actual, well actual reality. I was just talking about it in an abstract sense, as something our organization should do eventually, once we have some additional resources and capacity (maybe if you just keep talking and using board code words like “capacity” you’ll get out of it… you’re thinking of working the word “silo” into your next sentence). This isn’t something we want to have a false start with, you know, it’s something we want to do right from the get-go, I don’t want to be in a position where I’m, well, where we’re… taking on… challenge… board responsibility… um… mentality… Silo!”

You think this all through in your two-second pause, including the rebuttal.

“So you want somebody else to run with this one, huh? You think their time isn’t as valuable, do you? You think they should be your little worker bees, huh huh? You want to just come here and talk and talk and not have any responsibilities outside of the board room?”

You keep beating yourself up, including other random things that generally make you feel guilty; like that second hot dog you ate at lunch today (extra ketchup).

You hear the response in your head, it’s a bit silly and dramatic, but you don’t want to let your fellow board members think you aren’t up to the challenge. That maybe you’re just hear to round out an already pretty impressive resume, that you’re trying to skate by without doing any heavily lifting,

SO instead you say,

“Alright. I’m in.”

You commit. You find a way to make it work with your already busy life.

You make time for it on your lunch break, during the evenings, even on weekends and you know what?

You discover you’re getting much more back then you ever thought possible.

You’ve made true friends that you actually enjoy hanging out with outside of board meetings.

You have all these new contacts, new job opportunities, new resources to leverage.

YOU have got much more out of your board service then perhaps you put in- impossible! … though it may seem with all your long hours.

AND you discover…

that neglected friends and family are easy to forgive when you’re the one buying dinner.

This entry was posted in Leadership & Management, Nonprofit Issues and Causes, Personal Development & Volunteering, Professional Development and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Board Service Story By Aaron House

  1. Dana Bright says:

    This is truly great, Aaron. I hope many people reading your post are inspired to get up, get out there and put their time and talents towards nonprofit board service!

  2. Nancy Sabin says:


    You’re right on with the all-too-frequent way that ideas are shared during board mtgs with little understanding of the capacity needed to pull them off. Too many ideas with too few “bucks and bodies” to pull them off becomes a receipe for frustrated directors and staff.

  3. Great post. I wrote this a few months ago, and thought you might find it interesting. http://thegoodcounsel.com/2011/08/29/why-does-a-nonprofit-board-need-young-people/
    Granted, an all volunteer run board is a very different animal than a governance board. I enjoyed your take on it. Thanks for sharing your advice.

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