Dos and Don’ts of Board Service

Being a good board member requires a little knowledge beforehand. As a new director, you’ll be soon learning a lot. In the meantime, following are five “dos” and five “don’ts” to help you get yourself ready for board service.

Be prepared.

Whether for a nonprofit or for a company, board business is an essential part of any organization’s operations. Treat it that way. Commit to meetings by entering them on your calendar; arrive on time, having read (and digested) all materials beforehand. Have your questions ready.

Be professional.

Being a board member requires professional conduct — always. Overall, this means respecting the confidentiality of the boardroom and disclosing any potential conflicts of interest. It means responding quickly to board-related emails. It means not gossiping. During the meeting itself, it means no phone calls, no texting, and no social media.


Remember that you’ve been selected to serve on the board because your voice matters. Take an active part. Learn as much as you can about every aspect of board business and make it your goal to speak up several times in each meeting.

Be accountable.

The world is full of people who say they’ll do things they don’t end up doing. As a board member, be known as the opposite: someone who is reliable, dependable, and accountable for the things they say they’ll do. You’ll quickly be noticed — and acknowledged — by your peers.

Be an ambassador.

As a board member, you’re a public representative of the organization you’re serving. Embrace it. Speak up about it in public and, if necessary, to your network of friends and colleagues. If you’re part of a nonprofit, take time to talk to others about the cause; if you’re part of a corporate board, be willing to help boost the business.

1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Remember that your position as a director or trustee reflects a portion of your shareholders or stakeholders. If you need to better understand an issue, chances are good that someone else does, too. Speak up. Get clarity.

2. Don’t lose sight of your own big picture — or the mission of your board.

Why have you chosen to serve on a board? Only you can answer that question. Regularly check in with yourself: Are you getting what you need? Are you bringing what you can? How is your current situation part of your own big-picture plan? And with every decision as a member, make sure you feel it’s aligned with the mission of the board itself.

3. Don’t wait to be reminded.

Promised you’d provide your help on a certain issue? Said you’d make an introduction to a potential donor or investor? Said you’d arrange for a detail at the year-end gala? If you commit to doing something, do it. Don’t wait for someone to remind you.

4. Don’t forget you’re part of a larger system.

Boards are essential, but they’re only one part of a healthy, functioning organization. A nonprofit’s office staff works hard to keep things running and deserves respect from board members as peers. Employees at a company are its lifeblood and deserve recognition from board members as a valuable asset.

5. Don’t neglect the law.

As a new board member, you’ll soon learn about “the duty of care,” “the duty of loyalty,” and “the duty of obedience.” For now, just be aware that as an advisor, trustee, or director, you’re likely to have legal responsibilities related to the finances and the operations of your organization. Learn them. Take them seriously. If you’re not clear about what those duties are, ask.