Interview with Laura Bartlett

Board Chair: Gilda’s Club New York City
Board Vice Chair: mothers2mothers US
Audit Committee Chair: mothers2mothers US
Board Development Committee Chair: mothers2mothers US

Board Director – Myelin, Inc. (for profit board)

Choosing the right board: What are the three most important considerations?

First, be passionate about the mission. Second, ask if there is a written “Roles and Responsibilities” document describing what is expected of board directors – this should include expectations for “give/get”, time commitments, travel commitments, etc. Third, look at the 990 and the rating on GuideStar or Charity Navigator to make sure you understand the quality of the finances and governance of the organization. Look at who is on the board – ask to meet at least three of the directors.

The benefits of serving: What makes it worth it? 

Seeing the results of the mission – actually viewing the service or aid being rendered – is extremely gratifying if you are passionate about the mission. If you are someone who wants to “give back,” it can be very satisfying to know your efforts are making a difference.

Getting off to a good start: What are three important things to do in your first several months on the board? 

Ask for  and review a few years of annual reports and/or board meeting minutes. Familiarize yourself with non-profit governance – there are many good sources – if you are new to the sector. Educate yourself on the program area the organization specializes in. If it is a specific disease state, learn all you can about that disease, where funding comes from and what other organizations are working in the area.

Participating meaningfully and productively: What should you do to make the experience worthwhile for you and for the organization?

Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare for board meetings. Volunteer for a committee that will benefit from your experience and expertise. Attend meetings in person and be on time for committee or board conference calls and meetings. If you can’t attend at least 80% of all meetings or calls, you probably shouldn’t be on the board.

Serving in a leadership position: What are two or three things to consider when deciding about serving as a board officer or committee chair?

The biggest consideration is the time involved in being an officer or committee chair. TO DO THE JOB WELL, YOU MUST SPEND TIME ON IT. Don’t agree to serve unless you are sure you have time to spend on these duties – it is probably twice as much as you think it will be. Sometimes more. Make sure you are qualified to serve if there are specific skills involved (compensation committee, audit committee). If you have not done this type of work before, do not agree to lead committees like these.

What do you wish someone had told you when you were joining a nonprofit board?

That the time commitment was considerable and the expenses involved in travel to/from meetings and for board committee activities were significant and in addition to the give/get expectations. That with younger organizations (<15 years) the board can be composed of more ‘friends and family’ than professionals. That doing the job of director well involves significant self-education and lots of patience. That many board directors are on the board just to be on the board – not necessarily to do the work of a board director. That some board directors think giving money to the organization is their only responsibility.