Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

No, not when you die. Your legacy when you complete your three year term on the nonprofit board that you serve on.

Just yesterday, a corporate executive told me about her board legacy plan for one of the two boards she sits on; the conversation brought to mind someone else who had just completed his board legacy plan five years ago.

Tamara Mabry* told me that she actually serves on two boards: a hunger shelter where she was recently "on-boarded" very effectively, and a mentoring organization where she was not. Best practices for on-boarding means that as soon as you join the board, your roles and responsibilities are made very clear and specific to that board, including financial expectations, meeting attendance, and committee participation. Additionally, if you are on-boarded well, you are provided with training and information regarding the organization's finances and programs, as well as the board structure. At the hunger shelter, Mabry was on-boarded well, including being introduced to the key people on the board and the staff. Sure, some of this was addressed before Mabry joined the board, but these matters need to be covered once again and in greater depth once you join the board.

Now that Mabry is deeper into her board term on the mentoring organization, she wants to help the board to develop a better on-boarding program for its new members. This way, new board members can become productive much earlier on. She told me that this will be her legacy as she completes her three-year term.

Mabry's use of the term "legacy" reminded me of a conversation several years ago with another board member, Luis Alvarez*.  He told me that the legacy he planned as chair of his board's governance committee (also known as a nominating committee) was to work with the board chair and the nonprofit's CEO to help build a board that he couldn't get onto. That is, he wanted to help to identify and recruit board candidates who had greater stature in the community, higher level positions at their companies, and the capacity to make more significant financial contributions and raise more money than he and other board members could do at present. I met Alvarez at the end of his second three-year term, and he had achieved his goal. As a result the organization was able to increase its revenues, and hence its impact. Alvarez was focused on the mission, not on keeping himself and his friends on the board.

As an individual, you want to look back after your one or two three year terms and know what value you have added to advance the organization.

The concept of a legacy is not only for individuals to consider, but also for boards to think about. In board retreats, I ask boards: In three years, when you look back, what do you want to have accomplished as an organization? And, as a board, what value will you add in achieving that vision?

* names have been changed