Mastering Board Involvement: Lessons in Leadership, Empowerment, and Community Impact

Beth Gunter // Culture
Leadership board

Throughout my life, I have been taught and encouraged to give back to the community, both personally and professionally. Over the last 20+ years, I have found the most rewarding way to do so is to actively serve on boards – as the head of a committee, as a member of the executive board, or at the helm, as the president/chair running the board. These experiences have honed my leadership skills, empowered others, and enhanced my soft skills.

Interested in Serving?

If you have never served on a board before, the prospect of finding one that matches your passions and skills may seem daunting. I am sharing some insights I have gained over the years to help you recognize an effective board, identify the skills you need to be successful, and make an impact in the organization and community.

Finding the Right Fit: Understanding Board Dynamics

If you are going to invest your time and energy by serving on a board, you’ll want to ensure it is effective. To gain insights into the dynamics of both structured and unstructured boards, consider these questions:

  • Is it a board on which everyone’s voice counts?
  • Is there a clear mission/statement of direction?
  • Is there an agenda for meetings?
  • Do people get cut off when they are speaking?
  • Do people leave a board meeting feeling good about their time spent or are they questioning whether the meeting was worth it or pointless?
  • Is the board diverse – gender, age, race?
  • How welcoming are the board members – are they friendly or cliquey?

A strong board example: St. Louis Children’s Hospital Development Board, which exemplifies effective governance, boasts a diverse team and hosts innovative events that strengthen hospital ties. Leadership is always accessible, fostering discussion and support. The board’s successful fundraising efforts are breaking contribution records, driven by well-organized events that garner significant donations. Meetings are run effectively, with engaged members passionate about the mission. This collaborative atmosphere ensures every voice is heard, allowing members to influence meaningful changes that impact the community.

Unorganized board warning signs:A board that lacks diversity, a defined mission, community engagement, volunteers, or a fundraising presence should give you pause. As should one in which decisions are made only by tenured board members and the president. You should also consider the experience level of those leading. If the board leaders feel they can’t make an impact until they bring in mentors from whom they can learn, the organization may not be the right one for you.

Unproductive meetings are also cause for concern. Ineffective meetings are often a symptom of deeper issues, such as the inability to listen to feedback, ask pertinent questions, or facilitate constructive conversations. These skills are essential for leading discussions toward productive outcomes and ensuring that every voice is heard and valued.

Skills for Successful Board Participation

Serving on or managing a board can be challenging, but it allows you to find a voice you didn’t know you had. You’ll tap into and refine a valuable set of skills that will serve you in a variety of settings: teamwork, collaboration, thoughtful interaction, and active listening.

My positions on boards have presented me with unique situations that tested my leadership skills. While serving on one board, I discovered some unsavory business practices. It became imperative to rally the board to maintain the team I had built and fix what had been set into motion before our term.

In another situation, the board members were my current and prospective clients. I was challenged to balance sensitive relationships, gravitas, and empathy while collaborating and holding authority on the board.

Embracing Purposeful Board Leadership

Effective board leadership goes beyond attendance and participation – it requires a deep commitment to make an impact on the community. By sharpening essential skills, such as active listening, strategic facilitation, and motivational leadership, you can maximize your contributions to the organizations you serve. By serving with a clear purpose and direction, you can inspire positive change and leave a lasting legacy in your community.

As a bonus, you will be expanding your network. People are more likely to consider doing business with those they know and work side-by-side for the common good.

How To Join A Board

Get involved with a board by networking with peers and colleagues to discover nonprofit organization opportunities. Attend meetings focused on education and networking to inquire about joining.

At Spry Digital, our core values drive us to support community nonprofits through volunteering, donating, and leveraging our skills. Join the board involvement movement today!

About Me:

I'm Beth Gunter, a dedicated networker and connector deeply involved as an executive philanthropy board member, volunteer, and social activist. I lead boards focused on women's and children's health, wellness, and empowerment, tirelessly working to impact the community where my initiative, One Degree of Separation, originated. This quarterly networking event has grown by 567% since its inception five years ago, reflecting my commitment to fostering connections and collaborations across diverse backgrounds.