Apr. 24, 2017 9:53 am

4 ways to be a better board member

Serial board member and iPraxis President Jeremiah White shares his tips. For one: Recognize when you've outlived your usefulness.

iPraxis with President Jeremiah White (top right).

(Photo via

This is a guest post by Jeremiah J. White, Jr.
One of the ways I have served my community and demonstrated activism for human and economic rights in Philadelphia is by participating on the boards of directors of nonprofit organizations.

I believe if you serve as an officer or chair of a board of a nonprofit or quasi-governmental corporation, you must actively participate in the cause, engage in the work to sustain the organization, and push for equity and justice for those on whose behalf you work.

Over the years, I have selected causes important enough to me that would drive my active participation at a governance level to make a difference for clients, staff and the community:

  • HIV/AIDS, with The Philadelphia AIDS Consortium and the Minority AIDS Coalition
  • Economic development and justice with the Philadelphia Development Partnership and Community Capital Works
  • Health disparities through the Glaucoma Services Foundation at Wills Eye Hospital and the Gaston and Porters Health Improvement Corporation
  • Immigration with Intercultural Family Services
  • Education through the Community College of Philadelphia and iPraxis, which strives to get more young people of color interested in STEM careers

Through all of these experiences, I’ve learned a few things about how to be a better board member.

1. Understand others’ motivations for showing up.

For each cause and each board, people engage for different reasons. People join boards to create networks, to gain experiences and skills in governance and a particular field of work beyond what they do ordinarily; to have a voice, to give back in terms of time and money, or to make a difference.

One of the keys to being a highly functional board member is to recognize these different motivations and perspectives as you collectively embark on making key strategy, funding, programming and collaborative decisions. This does not mean that you always agree, but that you pursue your point of view and marshal support toward a particular outcome that benefits the organization — even when you are a lone voice.

2. Keep the organization’s best interests at the fore.

In the end, we must realize if an idea moves forward that is better than the one you back or propose, you must step forward and recognize this, get with the program, and support what is best. You must rise above your own personal attachment to an idea or way of doing simply because it is yours.

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3. Stay relevant.

The greatest threat to a board is a member or members that do not recognize when they are no longer as valuable to the cause, mission or governance as they are required to be. When a board position becomes a life-long endeavor that inhibits the refreshing of talent, skill and ideas, it is a real problem.

4. Mentor the next generation.

I have learned so much from participating on boards. I have acquired skills, techniques of leadership and friendships. I have been coached and guided in ways that would have never happened if, when I was as a young person filled with ideas and passion, someone did not take the time to assist me to be a better board member. We need more pathways for our young folks to take the mantle of leadership and reinvigorate our nonprofit sector.


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