In building a board, many people fixate on the potential for big gifts. Perhaps you’re familiar with the “wealthy board” fantasy?
However, a board member’s most important contribution is the gift of time. With our families, jobs, social obligations, etc., personal time is a shrinking resource, which makes it ever more precious.
Do you set clear expectations about time?
It surprises me that so few boards have explicit guidelines about the the time commitment required.
Many trustees assume that if they attend all board meetings, they’ve fulfilled their obligations. There’s no discussion about preparing for meetings, committee work, fundraising, participating in organizational events, and other tasks that spring up over the course of the calendar.
Since nonprofits are vastly different, I’m wary about estimating the number of hours required. At one end of the spectrum, I know committed board members who invest 40 hours per month or more.
At the other end are trustees who carefully choose their commitments and spend only three or four hours each month. These individuals can be very effective in a self-limited role.
Overall, the typical board member probably contributes five to ten hours per month.
What’s the right number for your group? To find out, consider the following steps.
Step 1: Talk with peers
Check with three or four people connected to nonprofits you admire.
Ask them: do they set explicit time requirements or benchmarks for their trustees? If so, what are the expectations?
How do their board members spend their time? What do they actually do?
Step 2: Create time sheets for your board
Second, track current time commitments by creating a time sheet for your board. Here’s a sample worksheet.
Feel free to adjust these tasks to match the work of your board and your organization.
Once you’ve customized the form, distribute copies to the board, stressing that:
- This is an anonymous process, so don’t include your name
- Please track your hours honestly
- We will use this to develop baseline data on how much time trustees spend on board work
After three months, collect the forms and compile the data.
Step 3: Clarify your expectations
Use the time sheet data and information from peer organizations to initiate a discussion with the board.
What’s the average number of hours per month they participate? How about the highest total? The lowest? How do your group compare with other nonprofits?
The data collection and subsequent conversations will help to clarify what people want and exect from each other, and from their service on the board.
Use what you learn to help with recruitment
This process can help you recruit new board members. When potential trustees ask, “How much time do you expect from me?” you can give an accurate answer that’s been vetted and approved by the full board.
You might even create a board involvement menu, outlining options for board engagement, to share with prospective board members. Use this tool to focus their activity and clarify the amount of time they’re willing to spend on board work.
Note: This is adapted from Andy’s new book, What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid: A 1-Hour Guide, to be published in March 2017 by Emerson & Church.