Question of the week #31

ImagesI have sat on several boards at this point including profit and non-profit.  All have different dynamics. As I continue to sit on more boards it is a good time to reflect with this question.

What was your 1st board seat? What did you do?

My first board seat on a non-profit was as the chair of MOUSE.  Kind of funny that my first experience was being the board chair.  Just shows how young, naive, inexperienced we were.  We believed we could change the digital divide and were the right people to do it.  We obviously did something right as MOUSE is still here 15 (actually 16) years later.  Many of the ideas and concepts we talked about came to fruition so being naive was not such a bad thing. 

Here is what I learned about a non-profit.  We are all volunteers so the pace is very different.  There are a lot of checks and balances that must take place in regards to governance and finances.  It is sometimes incredibly tedious but with a 5013C status you have no choice.  There is an important rule to being on a non-profit board; give, get or get off.  I am a big believer in that.  The organization should get as much from you as you get from being tied to them. 

Being a chair of a non-profit was enlightening.  Dictatorship does not work.  It is imperative to build relationships with everyone on the board, get everyone on the same page to work towards the same goal.  There should be no surprises at a board meeting actually there should never be any surprises at any board meeting profit or non-profit.  There are separate committees that work on specific parts of the business and they need to present those options to the board.  Bottom line, I learned how to be more political.

The first profit board I sat on was a company called UPOC; Universal Point of Contact.  The company was basically the first glance of what Twitter would eventually become.  Timing in life is everything but then again so is management and the right investors.  This was not a very functional board.  The investors that had the most skin in the game just showed up for the board meetings with no follow-up or help for the entrepreneur between each meeting.  They did not use their contacts to help move the company forward.  They did not think big or strategically.  They spent more time on screwing the entrepreneur.  Eventually they brought in someone with grey hair to run the place which was a huge mistake.  He was awful. I fought it but I was not a big investor and I was on the side of the entrepreneur.  The entrepreneur had taken money from people who really did not understand his business, aka bad money.  They had no interest in nurturing him and helping UPOC grow but just expected it would miraculously happen because they had put money in.  The whole thing was not pretty. 

So many lessons learned from both experiences.  The one that really resonates with me is that being on a board is a responsibility and a full time job even though you only meet once a month.  It takes more than one to help a company grow, it takes a group of people who are committed, engaged and care.  It is something that I feel very strongly about.  If you can't do what is asked or expected of you when you join a board then you shouldn't sit in that seat.