5 things we're not telling board applicants

by Lauren Van Schepen
follow me on Twitter: @lvanschepen

I have been dreaming of fiduciary responsibilities.

Caught in the throes of YNPN officer and chair elections, board recruitment, a fast-approaching board election at my day job, and a recent ELN on board service, it's all I can think about at the moment. While it's essential to understand the legal requirements of a board member, and great to consider the professional development opportunities, I've been ruminating on my first year on the YNPN board and the things I’ve learned - things no one told me. 

1. It will be messy. Early and often. 

While any organization will have the occasional quick and easy board meeting -- approve this, vote on that, wham bam thank you ma'am -- many times it falls to the board to make tough decisions. Whether related to budget, strategic planning, or public policy, complicated and nuanced questions are often the center of board meeting agendas. Do your prep work, be conscientious, bring your whole self to the table, and know you'll likely leave frustrated or confused a few times. This work isn't for the faint of heart, and it’s what you signed up for.

2. Bonus: new friends and connections.

All that nuanced mess means you're going to get to know your fellow board members. For me, joining a board was one of the more intense experiences of my relatively short professional life. Finding my place and voice in the group, learning how to challenge to change, and becoming a better listener helped me not only learn from my fellow board members, but feel connected to them personally through our shared experience. Board makeup and culture is key -- look for a good fit where you feel like you can make good professional connections, but where people are also seeking to know you and make reciprocal connections.

3. You get surprising perks. 

Maybe the organization orders awesome catering for board meetings. You could get access to their programs for free. Maybe you'll get an occasional email asking if anyone would like to be a special guest at an event. You may simply be more "in the know." However it shakes out, board service often comes with unpredictable and exciting opportunities for networking, professional development, or culinary exploration. 

4. Position description: more what you'd call "guidelines."

You will be asked to do a bit of everything. As carefully as you may try to map out your board term with committee service and task forces, you're there for your opinion and energy around all things brought to the board level. Don't be difficult or limit your experience by siloing yourself into a portion of the organization's work. 

5. While it ebbs and flows, the feeling doesn't go away. 

There will be off days. There will be times when you're writing a blog entry at 11:30 at night, and you ask yourself "How did I get here?" But when you attend a kickass event, read an incredible pool of board applications, or mention your organization and see someone's face light up, you feel warm, fuzzy, strong, and proud all at the same time. It's important work, and it’s what you signed up for. You're absolutely essential to the organization's success. That feels great, and doesn't change. 

Like any meaningful experience, board service can't be described in its entirety in any position description, blog, or conversation. If you're up for an adventure, though, you should give it a shot. 

If we haven't scared you away, consider applying for the YNPN Twin Cities board. The deadline for applications is Saturday, September 29. Email [email protected] with any questions. 

With permission photo credit.

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