If you live in a small town, it’s likely that you are serving on multiple boards. The school board. The city council. The economic development board. The church board. The library board. The co-op board. The arts council. The bank board. The list could go on and on and on.
Ben Winchester from the University of Minnesota has stated that even though most rural counties experienced a population loss in the last census, the number of nonprofits increased by an average of 15%. These nonprofits all require boards of directors and serving on those boards requires our time, talents, and resources. His research also shows 1 out of every 26 people in rural communities has an obligation to lead versus 1 out of 56 in urban communities.
This research causes me to wonder — if the pool of potential leaders is declining yet the need and obligation to serve as a leader is growing, then how is that directly affecting the quality of leadership skills required to serve on any board?
I have served on a few boards over the past few decades and only once has any one vetted me to serve as a leader of their organization by asking what leadership skills I would bring to their organization or defining my role as a board member in their organization. In most cases I really didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, I was just eager to serve. However, to become a quality leader and build my skills, I observed others, asked a lot of questions, and figured it out as I went along. I also read a lot of leadership books to improve my skills. Sometimes that worked well, other times there was failure.
I believe we need to improve how we are preparing people to lead organizations in our small towns by clearly defining leadership roles in organizations and mentoring younger people through the process of service. And, if we are already in leadership, then we must continually be practicing and improving our leadership skills to help our communities be stronger. We also have an obligation to be an engaged and educated when we are willing to serve on a board of directors. As a minimum entry point to serving on any board, we must start by understanding the three fundamental legal duties of each individual board member, which include: (source https://boardsource.org/}
Duty of Care — Each board member has a legal responsibility to participate actively in making decisions on behalf of the organization and to exercise his or her best judgment while doing so.
Duty of Loyalty — Each board member must put the interests of the organization before their personal and professional interests when acting on behalf of the organization in a decision-making capacity. The organization’s needs come first.
Duty of Obedience — Board members bear the legal responsibility of ensuring that the organization complies with the applicable federal, state, and local laws and adheres to its mission.
Ultimately, we need people who have a passion for the community and a willingness to lead and learn. Serving on the board of an organization that you care about is one of the most fulfilling jobs you can have, so get engaged and begin learning more about maximizing your potential as a local leader to help your community thrive.