The following blog post is excerpted from Chapter Two of my forthcoming book, The Board-Savvy CEO (Governance Edge, 2014):
Nonprofit board members are often engaged in doing important non-governing work, typically when it’s been determined that board members are uniquely qualified to contribute and/or there aren’t sufficient staff to get this non-governing work done alone. Several boards I’ve worked with in recent years, for example, regularly schedule board members to speak in important forums, such as a chamber of commerce luncheon or a state legislative committee considering regulations affecting the nonprofit, as a very important way to educate the wider public and important stakeholders about the nonprofit’s goals and accomplishments and, in the legislative case, to influence policy making. Another non-governing activity that many boards have gotten involved in is hands-on fund raising (as contrasted with the true governing work of setting revenue targets, adopting fund raising strategies, and monitoring fund raising performance).
The board-savvy CEOs I’ve worked with and observed over the years don’t have a problem with their board members getting involved in important non-governing work so long as: first, board members are actually needed to do the specific non-governing work; second, board members are well-qualified to do it; and, third, the non-governing work will not seriously compete with and detract from the board’s fundamental mission: making governing decisions and judgments. Board-savvy CEOs are always aware of the danger of over-extending and possibly burning out board members by loading too much non-governing work on top of the demanding job of governing. This is an important reason why, in my experience, it can be extremely difficult to fill positions on so called “doing boards.” Board-savvy CEOs also well know that overloading their board with non-governing work actually works against non-board volunteer engagement. The International Economic Development Council, for example, has tremendously expanded non-board volunteer involvement by uncoupling board members from several traditional “doing” committees engaged in such non-governing activities as planning the annual meeting and developing educational programs, thereby freeing up space for non-board member volunteers to become engaged.