How to decide whether to join a volunteer board

Dinner Party DessertIt's an honor and a privilege to have volunteer opportunities to use our time and talents for the betterment of our communities. One common opportunity is to serve as a board member at an organization you care about and whose mission you support.

I've written before about things you might consider when leaving a volunteer board of directors for a non-profit or other community organization. I've also had some good conversations recently about the process on the other side of that kind of community involvement, deciding whether or not to say "yes" to joining a board of directors or taking on some other leadership role. For your sake and for that of the organization, it's important to do some research and reflecting before accepting that invitation, to make sure your involvement is a good fit and that the experience will be rewarding for all involved.

From my experience, here's a list of steps to take and questions to ask when you're considering whether or not to join a board of directors:

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Rediscovering what you already know

J.C. Penney Co. store downtownI see a surprising number of organizations and businesses that suffer from the malady of reinventing basic business processes and rediscovering tools and resources they already had, at the expense of using up valuable staff time and straining relationships with their customers and constituents.

Sometimes this reinventing and rediscovering happens because there's been a change in staffing, sometimes it happens because people just don't bother to write things down.  But I'm amazed at the "shortcuts" people think they're taking to work around those cases:

  • We couldn't find our username and password to manage our website domain name, so we just registered a new one and re-printed our business cards.  Problem solved!
  • We forgot that our last IT person already had a Facebook page setup, so we setup a new one and then asked everyone to like the new page.  Problem solved!
  • We're not sure where the source design files are for our marketing brochure, so we'll just design a new one.  Problem solved!

Meanwhile you've lost a bunch of would-be visitors to your website who still have your old business cards, halved your population of Facebook followers, and wasted someone's week on solving a problem that was already solved.

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The power of the agenda setter

In every organizational conversation, there's some process for setting the agenda of what the conversation will be about, and how it will be conducted.  Usually there's a subset of the organization's members who set that agenda - sometimes just a single person - shaping the issues and decisions that the organization takes on.

In a non-profit organization board meeting, it might be the Executive Committee or the board chair.

In a small business, it might be the business's owners or managers.

In a city council meeting, it might be the President of the council or the group's political majority.

In a community of faith, it might be church elders.

Sometimes we forget the power that the agenda setters can have.  We focus on the outcomes of the conversations that we do have, but we forget or overlook that some conversations aren't conducted in the first place.

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Mini-Book Reviews: Sex, Genius, Spying and Cyberwar

I haven't been reading at the pace I want to but I've still be able to squeeze in some books here and there.  Here are some mini-reviews of a few of them:

Sex at Dawn
by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

Sex at Dawn is an honest and thorough exploration of the history of human sexuality, and what that means for how we understand our sexuality today.  Written by some folks who have clearly done their research, it's part anthropological study and part cultural critique, and it's got plenty of witty humor sprinkled throughout.

Let's be honest, it's easy to take the history and meaning of sexuality for granted in a society that throws images and talk of it in our faces left and right - "surely things have just always been done this way, right?"  And there's so much pressure to understand, have and be good at sex while also maintaining an extremely nonchalant approach to being a sexual being.  But whatever you think you know about why and how people have sex, why monogamy is held up as a moral imperative in modern culture, and how other cultures and species around the world treat sex and sexuality, you should be prepared to be challenged and entertained by this journey through human behavior.  I certainly was! Continue reading "Mini-Book Reviews: Sex, Genius, Spying and Cyberwar"

10 things about my approach to business management

DIY pen construction - finishWe try to keep Summersault LLC as "flat" as possible, with minimal hierarchy and focus on authority relationships, opting instead for collaborative roles and even aspirations of a tribal staffing model.  But in my role as "Principal," I still end up taking on what would traditionally be called a "management" relationship with other staff.

Recently, as a part of getting ready for some staff training, I tried to write down 10 things that might be helpful for a new member of the team to know about how I approach this role.  For better or worse, I now present them to you.  I don’t necessarily expect you to think that they’re good practices; I offer them as self-reflection, not advice.

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