The Best Board Etiquette

Hospitals, foundations, private schools, colleges, and universities are all organizations that are run by a board of directors, usually comprised of employees of the organization and outsiders. While you don’t ask to join a board (usually you are asked), you may want to mention your interest in serving on the board to a current board member or employee. That person can submit your name to the appropriate person. Boards have vetting processes and nominating committees, such as a hospital fund-raiser or school annual fund; career expertise in a needed area, such as insurance, law, or accounting; or being able to make a substantial gift to the organization. Many boards require varying degrees of financial support from their members; other, smaller boards may only want a member’s skills—though they’ll never turn away money.

Being a good board member involves both business and volunteer etiquette. It is a prestigious leadership position, and you are expected to be both a supporter and an ambassador for the organization. Failure to take the honor and the responsibility seriously can be damaging to one’s reputation both socially and in business. While similar to some of the points made earlier about volunteering in general, it is especially important for board members to observe the following:

  • Always attend meetings. They should be a “must go” event on your calendar, not to be canceled lightly. If you cannot attend, make sure you ask for and read the minutes so you’re up to speed.
  • Be on time. It is important to not only be punctual, but to arrive early to ensure that as the meeting starts you are fully prepared.
  • Dress appropriately. If you’re a first time member, ask about the dress code for board meetings, then dress accordingly.
  • Be an active participant. Without interrupting and/or dismissing another members opinion, make sure to share your ideas. On some boards, you raise your hand to be recognized by the chair.
  • Complete assignments in advance. Taking good notes during meetings will allow you to follow up on any commitments or specific responsibilities you may be assigned.
  • Be observant. Making sure the organizations needs are being met is important. For example, is the boardroom equipped to assist members who are hard of hearing? Could the facility benefit from a high-speed Internet connection? Is the exterior of the facility attractive and in good repair?
  • Be an ambassador. Without speaking critically about the organization, remember that you represent the organization by being a part of it.
  • Support the organization. Positively supporting extracurricular or fund-raising activities can mean anything from manning a youth center’s car washing event to organizing a table at a major fund-raising benefit.