Why Board Members are Like Facebook Statuses

This just in: The way your friends’ (or kids) update their Facebook relationship statuses and how your nonprofit Board members feel about your organization may have more in common than you think.

It’s Complicated

This just in: The way your friends’ (or kids) update their Facebook relationship statuses and how your nonprofit Board members feel about your organization may have more in common than you think.

Most people don’t think of love-struck Facebook updates when it comes to describing the connection between Board members and the nonprofits they serve. But there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Being a Board member is not small potatoes. Board members are bound by rigorous nonprofit ethical and legal duties comprised of the “duty of care,” “duty of loyalty” and “duty of obedience.” Beyond abiding by and enforcing these, Board members are also counted on for their usually robust networks, key skills (such as marketing, accounting, research or fundraising), accomplished professional profiles and brand leverage they bring to organizations.

[tweet bird=yes] Just like being in a relationship, being a Board member can be at times fancy and free, or intense and complex. And, sometimes, they also break up.[/tweet]

Here’s how the world of Facebook relationship statuses and Board members’ organizational sentiments converge – and collide.

Single. Would-be or prospective Board members fit within this category. These are leaders, influencers and subject matter experts in development who are not formally affiliated with any nonprofit organizations. Yet they possess the skills, character and networks ripe for social-change impact. These singletons may be busy with their careers, tied up with family commitments or otherwise encumbered. Also, they just may not know which opportunities exist for them to become change agents.

In a relationship. These Board members are, in fact, on board with an organization. Their association is official. They’ve gone through orientation and are learning what it means to serve as the behind-the-scenes faces of governance. At the same time, they’re still feeling out the organization and learning more about its history, mission and vision. The rose-colored glasses show signs of coming off as they’re becoming aware of some opportunities and challenges, yet they feel rather optimistic about what the future holds.

Married. Demonstrably committed with a public declaration of support, evidenced by advocacy, presence and financial contributions. This is what a Board member who is “married” to his or her organization looks like. Members in this phase of their nonprofit Board leadership are past the niceties of the courting stage and no longer need to be persuaded or convinced that their hearts and minds are in the right place. They show up or call in for most, if not all, Board meetings. They attend many organizational activities and events, especially the signature institutional ones. And they speak about and champion the cause at every turn, chatting up others in their network, posting about organizational news and needs on their LinkedIn accounts, and initiating their very own grassroots campaigns in their neighborhoods and faith communities.

It’s Complicated. Perhaps leaders of various committees have butted heads on a thorny issue, or Board members and organizational staff leaders have a difference of opinion on a key mission-oriented goal. Maybe there are interpersonal issues at play that are muddying the overall group dynamics of the Board, leading to lapses in understanding, communication and transparency. Either way, Board members in the “it’s complicated” category have not completely washed their hands of the organization or their role within it, but they are beginning to have questions and doubts based on a significant incident or a series of disappointments.

In an Open Relationship. These Board members are not monogamous with the charitable cause. They are probably serving on multiple nonprofit Boards and racking up affiliations, potentially for the wrong reasons (cue name dropping and resume building). If you examined the various social-change initiatives in which they are aligned, you may not even discern a common denominator; their affiliations appear random and based more on quantity rather than quality.

Widowed. This represents an unwanted and potentially unexpected conclusion to a mutually beneficial and productive partnership. Maybe the organization dissolved after determining its mission had been fulfilled or perhaps it merged with another nonprofit or discovered its services were no longer viable in the market. In less positive circumstances, the organization could have run out of money, lost local support or squandered Board engagement. Whatever the cause, the nonprofit has closed shop and discontinued operations, to the chagrin of a “widowed” Board member who did not willingly break up.

Civil Union. Board members in the phase are still, for all intents and purposes, still officially on the nonprofit organization’s Board of Directors roster. However, their involvement is, as this status suggests, simply civil – that is, courteous and polite. Perhaps they’ve been on the board too long and would have benefited for stricter term limits, or maybe they are overwhelmed and maxed out by the time and energy the nonprofit demands.

They are well mannered in quarterly meetings and cordial in conversations with agency leadership and fellow Board members. They are even genial in putting on a happy face when chatting up the organization with prospective donors and influencers. But that they must make an effort at civility is in itself telling – they are on the cusp of disengagement.

Divorced. This Board member has left the building. Maybe he or she has been disengaged for a while now, evidenced by absence at several consecutive events, a multitude of Board meetings and negligible or nonexistent personal donations. Their talents and skills probably were not being best utilized by the organization. Having mustered up the wherewithal to finally walk away, this Board member has officially resigned, terminating his or her affiliation before the phrase “term limits” even came up.

Do you agree or disagree with our descriptions of these categories? Share why or why not, and offer your ideas about other relationship status options and how they relate to Board members, on The Wakeman Agency Facebook page, where the dialogue carries on.

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