Want To Make A Difference? Join A Board

For months our national focus has been on the elections.  Now, whether your candidates won or lost, the elections are over.  The campaign focused on issues important to all of us:  job development, improved education, better and more efficient health care, services to those in need. While we may still be deeply divided politically, these issues unite us as we search for brighter tomorrows.

In the next weeks and months, Congress and the President will conduct serious negotiations on issues such as the budget crisis and the “fiscal cliff”.  Most of us will have no role in those negotiations. But we can all help.

As individual citizens, we can participate in significant ways in improving our corporations, educational system, delivery of health care, and searching for local solutions to national problems. So, do you want to make a difference?  Consider joining a board!

Colleges and universities, charities, corporations, banks, even neighborhood associations are generally governed by boards of directors.  There are a wealth of organizations with a need for educated, committed board leadership.  My personal board involvement has focused on education and the legal/judicial system. Whatever your particular passion: providing food for the poor, adult literacy, you name it, there is an organization just waiting for your help. Are you focused on business, entrepreneurship, job creation?  Join a board.  Is your interest related to health, the needs of the poor or the needs of neighborhoods and communities? Join a board. Businesses, civic and charitable organizations everywhere aalways on the lookout for highly skilled and motivated individuals who will “answer the call” by offering their talents and wisdom for board service.

But board leadership is not just about a willing heart.  It requires wisdom, passion, and an understanding of the responsibilities and rewards of board service. I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to participate on a board to learn about board service: what it entails and what particular challenges confront members of any board. My husband just gave me a great book, Answering the CALL: Understanding the Duties, Risks, and Rewards of Corporate Governance. It is one of many great books that can guide an individual in whether to serve on a board, as well as how to provide meaningful support with minimum risk.  Co-authored by attorneys Lynn Shapiro Snyder and Robert D. Reif, it is a helpful guide to any board member.

Answering the CALL begins Chapter 2 with a basic description of the role of corporate boards: “to promote the best interests of the corporation”, “to provide general direction for the management of the corporation’s business, to be involved in major corporate decisions, and to bear the ultimate responsibility for the company’s business and affairs.”  It distinguishes service on non-profit boards which requires directors “to remain faithful to the charitable mission and purposes of that organization.”

Because the authors are attorneys, it is not surprising that they focus on specific federal statutes that codify the responsibilities of corporate directors/board members: for example, Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, an amendment to the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and various provisions of the Internal Revenue Code.  The authors describe board members’ fiduciary responsibility to follow the law, describes what constitutes due diligence, and explains how to protect corporate funds, avoid improper conflicts of interest, and protect against violations of corporate loyalty.  While these obligations vary based on the nature of the organization, the overriding principles apply generally to both profit and non-profit boards of directors.

The book was published by Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Health Care Industry Foundation in 2003 and is now in it’s third edition.  While it is designed in part to encourage and support expanding board diversity, particularly for women, [2] the responsibilities of board service are “equal opportunity”.

But seriously.  If you are willing to commit your time and talents to board service, find an organization that you believe is consistent with your expertise and go to work. Be sure that as you begin your service, and through the years you continue to serve, you take to heart the wisdom set forth in Answering the CALL.  You will be doing your community and all of us a great service.

Get started.  Join a board. There is much to do!

[1]Sarbanes-Oxley was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002, as an effort to prevent scandal and restore investor confidence in publicly traded companies.  Amy Borrus, Learning to Love Sarbanes-Oxley, Business Week 126 (November 21, 2005), describes Sarbanes-Oxley as “the equivalent of a root canal”.

[2] Don’t short change the discussion of the benefits of service, particularly for women as well as their analysis of the importance of diversifying boards.

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The opinions in this blog are our own.  They do not represent the opinions of our families, our friends or our employers.

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