Many of you reading this post are at the peak of your careers. You’ve probably been asked to join multiple boards and wondering it’s worth it. Sitting on boards can be a great way to boost your credentials and give back to organizations you support. But, there is often a bigger time commitment than expected. It can take longer to get things done than you’re used to and there’s potential liability exposure.
To help us understand the pros and cons of sitting on boards, we reached out to several HB clients who are highly sought by a variety business, academic and not-for-profit organizations.
Blake Christian, CPA a partner of HCVT in Long Beach, CA said the most important decision to consider is whether or not you have the right skill set for the particular board. “You should ask the board members what the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats are to the future business plan for the entity–as well as the areas of expertise of the current board members. You will also want to understand the time commitment involved, the frequency of board meetings, the time of day the meetings are held and whether you are also expected to sit on a committee to deal with other entity issues,” added Christian, author of the forthcoming book, Benefits of Becoming A CPA-Preneur .
Matt Topley, chief investment officer of Fortis Wealth told me he not only wants to make a difference, but enjoys the opportunity to learn from fellow board members who come from different industries and professions. Topley stressed the importance of making sure your values and work style is consistent with the other board members. “If you’re very action-oriented like I am—make sure the board is equally action-oriented and not filled with members who serve to socialize or pad their resumes,” added Topley, a 2018 Philadelphia Inquirer Influencer in Finance award winner.
According to Christian, “If your skills fill shortfalls within the board, then you are likely a good match. For example, if the entity is having trouble getting funding and you have skills with grant-writing, banking, capital campaigns, etc., then that is a good match. If they are looking to improve their financial controls, forecasting, etc. and you have accounting expertise, again that can be a good match.”
When Topley joined the board of his alma mater, Holy Family University in 2010, the school was experiencing significant financial challenges as many small colleges do. “I chair the endowment committee and serve on the audit committee. With a new focus on financial metrics, Holy Family is now on solid financial footing with an increased enrollment. Holy Family is now one of the Philadelphia areas, top-ranked schools in terms of cost-versus-return and graduate job placement,” noted Topley.
Christian, who has served on over 25 boards during his career, recommends that prospective board members do their due diligence before joining. “Review their historical financial statements and check out the founders and board members to ensure they have the expertise and solid reputations. Then attend at least one board meeting or committee meeting to get a feel for the style and competency of the board. You will also want to make sure the entity has adequate insurance policies for the board members. It is not uncommon for boards to be sued for their actions or inactions,” added Christian.
Cynics would say “No good deed ever goes unpunished.” But if you do your homework about a board and join for the right reasons, chances are you’ll find it highly rewarding both professionally and personally.
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