So, Why Are You Here?


A friend who was once ED of a children’s advocacy group tells an anecdote about nonprofit boards.

“I’ll be on your board if you can answer one question for me,” challenged a local civic leader when invited to join.

“Well, I’ll try …” my friend responded.

“Explain to me why most business people check their brain at the door before they come into the boardroom.”

I thought of that recently as I came out of a presentation on branding I’d just made to a local group's board.

The point of the exercise was to help board members distill the story of their own involvement with the organization. To help them be able to explain what about the organization not only attracted them, but warranted enough interest and commitment that they would agree to be on the board of directors.

It’s a difficult assignment (which is why it’s worth thinking about in advance!)

I expected some reticence with the process. But a couple of board members were openly hostile.

Which led me to wonder: Why are you here?

It was readily apparent that each of these individuals felt strongly that they were making a contribution simply by bringing in a specific set of skills.

It was equally clear (to me, at least) that while some members expected the responsibilities of their position to extend beyond the boardroom, these two most definitely did not.

How do such divergent sets of expectations come about?

There are many possible sources. Lack of training. Lack of communication. Lack of direction. Lack of consistency. Lack of understanding. Lack of commitment.

The list goes on.

But it speaks to one of the most critical issues of board participation. People can agree to be on a board for a variety of reasons. And will bring with them a range of skills, experiences and expectations.

But a group of individuals will seldom coalesce by coincidence. It takes planning and focus and a willingness to work on it.

And usually, that has to come from the top.