This is the second part of a series with Paul A. Dillon. In the first part, we discussed business development. In this part, we discuss serving on board membership.
Israelis are increasingly serving on corporate and non-profit boards in Israel and around the world. What are the skills required to serve on a board? What questions should a prospective board member ask before joining a board? What are the benefits? To answer these questions I turned to someone with extensive corporate, governmental, and non-profit experience.
Paul A. Dillon is the president and CEO of Dillon Consulting Services LLC, which serves the veteran community. He has served as a trustee of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and a Public Member and Commissioner on the national Commission for Case Manager Certification.
He has served as a board member at many organizations including the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, the Metropolitan Planning Council of Chicago, the National Radio Hall of Fame, and the Walter E. Heller College of Business Administration Advisory Board at Roosevelt University.
Paul is currently an Adjunct Instructor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University.
What is the best way to get the skills necessary to serve on a corporate board?
I can tell you from experience that the best way to get the skills necessary to serve on a corporate board is to get a wide range and in-depth experience serving on non-profit boards. The skills that you get from non-profit boards can easily be applied to for-profit board service.
And, I have served on many non-profit boards during my 45 years in the professional services industry. The following are my answers to questions that many organizations ask about serving on non-profit boards, but which also are applicable to serving on for-profit corporate boards:
How do you pick which boards you serve on?
I look for the mission of the organization to be compatible with my interests and beliefs. I then look at who else is serving on the board and attempt to understand what the requirements are for board service. I do a thorough due diligence on the organization by asking the following questions, at a minimum:
- Can I get a copy of your bylaws and board policy manual (if you have one)?
- Do you have Directors and Officers (D&O) liability insurance? If so, can I get a copy of the policy to read?
- Do you have an annual audit from a reputable CPA firm? If so, can I get a copy of the latest final audit report?
- Can I get financial statements for your organization for the past 3 years?
- Has your organization ever been sued? If yes, please provide details of any past or present litigation.
- Can you arrange for me to talk to some present and former board members?
- Can you arrange for me to talk with key members of the professional staff?
- Can you arrange for me to talk with some of the people who are serviced by your organization?
- Is there anything else about your organization that I should know?
What’s interesting is that, once you develop a reputation as a diligent and competent board member, organizations seek you out and pick you, rather than you picking the organization on which to serve.
How important is your personal belief or involvement in the cause itself?
It is very important. It stands to reason that you will be a much better board member, and become much more involved with the organization if you believe in the mission of the organization on whose board you intend to serve. Why would you want to serve on the board of an organization whose mission you didn’t believe in?
What’s the benefit to you – and your company – in return for your service?
The benefits can be many. For non-profit boards, you get to “do good”, while you are “doing well”. “Doing good” and “doing well” are not mutually exclusive concepts. You get to benefit your community while enhancing the reputation of your company. Additionally, the person-to-person contacts that you make with your fellow non-profit board members can be very helpful in your business. This is particularly true in the professional services industry.
Do non-profit executives expect too much from boards – or too little?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. It depends on the organization. Some expect too much—and others, too little. But, what is really important for you as a board member is to set your own level of involvement as a member of a non-profit’s board of directors, and communicate that level of involvement to the organization. Managing expectations is as important in the non-profit sector, as it is in a for-profit business.