JOAN GARRY: How to Be a Great Board Member

how to be a good board memberYou never know whom you are going to sit next to at a bar mitzvah. I had the great fortune of sitting with an older woman who, for decades, has seen board service as a part of her life’s mission.

Clearly, I liked Gloria immediately.

Then, when she told me she never misses my blog posts, I liked her even more.

After we finished kvelling about the bar mitzvah boy, we discussed her current nonprofit.

“I serve on a very challenging board”, Gloria said. She began to describe her board challenges. She was right. Challenging.

When she told me about what she was doing to improve her board, I was impressed. Gloria was smart and clearly understood the big problems facing the organization.

  • An E.D. who saw the board as meddlesome
  • A board that was in fact meddlesome (well, not really in a bad way… just over-involved in minutiae)
  • Board members accustomed to playing the role of staff on small, grassroots boards that were now on the board of a larger organization with a staff of 30 and did not adjust their roles accordingly
  • A board chair that was not leading

But then Gloria told me a story about something that happened at a recent board meeting, and it hit me. There’s a key problem that Gloria failed to mention.

The problem… is Gloria.


When I heard Gloria’s story I knew.

The new Executive Director put her foot down with the board (flag on the field, by the way – and a post for another day) and told them: “My staff will not take minutes; that’s the job of the Secretary.”

The Secretary said, “I’m a procrastinator. The minutes will never get out in a timely fashion.” Flag #2.

So guess who volunteered to take the minutes? My bar mitzvah buddy.

Gloria was enabling bad behavior.

I asked Gloria why she volunteered to take the minutes. Two key reasons:

  • I wanted to show the secretary how to do it, that the task wasn’t onerous.
  • Somebody had to do it and it would take me no time at all.

Do you think the secretary interpreted the offer as a training session?

No way. That secretary breathed a sigh of relief.

Gloria’s intentions were great. She wants to be a good board member… nay, a GREAT board member. She has all the raw materials. But unless she changes her approach, this board will never get its act together.


Read the Full Article including, “Telltale signs of an enabling board member” and “How to be a good board member”

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