Chamber pros: This is an article written for your new board member(s). It does not enumerate all the things they should be doing. This article should accompany whatever board packet you use, your bylaws, and your agreement to serve. If you don’t have those things, you can use the I’m a Chamber Board Member. Now What? article.
The chamber board is one of the biggest factors in a healthy chamber. Even in large boards, each member matters because it is their skills and experience that help shape the chamber’s strategic plan and thus, determine its future.
If you are new to board life or if you’ve served on non-profit/charity boards, you may be wondering about your role and what you should be doing or not doing. Your role is outlined in your chamber’s by-laws. While it may seem like a lot to digest, you will be a stronger contributor if you understand your role and how you can best serve the chamber and the members. Your board position could leave a legacy on the economic development and prosperity of your area. Few volunteer positions can impact so many.
No-no’s for Chamber Board Members
Since many people learn by example, we’re going to provide a list of things you don’t want to do as a chamber board member (no matter how tempting it might be).
Acting Like the Chamber Exec Is Your Assistant
Your chamber executive serves at the pleasure of the board but is also the chief executive officer of the chamber. Treat this person as you would any high-level exec in your company. Don’t denigrate them or feel like you have to “train” them to be a productive person like you might your teenager. This person is likely a professional with vast experience. The two of you (the exec and the board) will work together to bring economic prosperity to the area and create a great environment for business. They are a partner in success planning, not your 1980s-style intern.
The same could be said for treating the chamber exec like a less important or easier job than you have. Chamber exec is not something you can do when you “retire” or “slow down.” To say that to your exec implies they have a job of leisure. Few will work hard with that kind of motivator in the office.
Be cognizant of how you communicate with them. Consider your tone. If you’re rewarding them for their hard work with a bonus, don’t tell them that’s all they’ll ever get. That’s demoralizing. Think like the leader you are and pretend an HR rep is in the room at every meeting.
Downgrading Their Contributions
Again, think of yourself as a business partner to your chamber staff. You don’t inspire the best out of your partner when you’re always downgrading their contributions or one-upping them. When they tell you they are maxed out and busy, don’t meet that statement with something like, “You think you’re busy? You don’t even know what busy is.”
The daily tasks of the chamber exec are not things that are often shared with you. As a chamber board member, you’re looking at the over-arching 36,000-foot view. They are at the grassroots. Both are valuable, but neither is less so than the other.
Being an Auditor
While you are trusted with fiduciary responsibilities, your job as a board member is not to nitpick everything to point out why it won’t work. You don’t get a board bonus for ensuring every “rocket launch” is canceled. Yes, you are there to share your wisdom, knowledge, and experience but that doesn’t mean asking questions about unimportant details like why the staffers aren’t using No. 2 pencils. Don’t get lost in the day-to-day administration. That’s not your lane. Keep your eye on the strategy and growth and how you can best contribute.
Ignoring the Need to Manage Change
As a business leader, you know that when change occurs (whether that be in the form of a merger or a new leader coming in), you need to help manage it. You need to set expectations and quell concerns. If part of your strategic plan is to increase staff headcount, for instance, don’t make disconcerting statements like not being sure if your executive director will be getting an assistant or a new boss. This can make a secure employee feel awful about their future with the chamber. Your board position may be volunteer but this is your Chamber CEO’s career. Give them that courtesy.
Undervaluing the Chamber
Ideally, when you were asked to be a chamber board member, you were excited at the opportunity. But that is not always the case. Some people see it as a glory position and don’t realize the amount of work behind the guidance you’ll provide as a strong board member. For this reason, they see themselves as a glorified figurehead that is all pomp and circumstance, a position to merely be seen, not do.
As a board member, you are lending your time, support, and intelligence to an organization that shapes the business community. This is not a pet project and should not be treated as such.
Asking Questions You Should Know
It’s not that you shouldn’t ask questions. But if the information has been given to you, read it. Read all of it. This is not an executive summary kind of volunteer position. When your chamber exec gives you a report or a board packet and wants to talk about it, read it. Doing anything less devalues their time.
Taking Things Over in Name Only
Again, some people believe this is a figurehead position so when the exec mentions taking on a committee, they do so with verve. But that’s where the work stops. They expect a chamber staffer to do the work and they’ll lend their name to the committee. If you’re going to volunteer, expect to do the work or be specific about what assistance you need. All chambers are different. One chamber may not expect a board member to head a committee, one may have expectations about event ticket sales. Whatever is expected of you do. Do not expect that chamber exec will find you a “designated hitter” to do the work for you.
Ignoring the Importance of Work/Life Balance
The chamber is a business. Its employees deserve a life. Help respect work/life balance boundaries for them. Which goes along with…
Telling People to Do More
Driven board members come in with ideas they think will change the face of the chamber. That’s terrific. But don’t throw out advice as a command if you haven’t done your homework. You wouldn’t do that at your own company or a friend’s company. Perform your due diligence before you start ordering people around saying things like, “What we really need is more events” without knowing how many events you have.
Touching Anyone Inappropriately
This had to be said, especially in situations where people have a more casual relationship. Most people understand you shouldn’t touch people in private areas. But sometimes–especially in towns where people have known each other since kindergarten–they may feel the need to touch to prove a point. For instance, don’t touch people’s faces and tell them to shush. Maybe this was acceptable behavior when you were this person’s babysitter but no longer. If you wouldn’t do it in front of your HR rep or attorney, don’t do it regardless of your past relationship.
Spending Money on Behalf of the Chamber and Asking to Be Reimbursed
There is nothing wrong with spending money on behalf of the chamber and getting reimbursed but there is an approval process just as there is in a business. You can’t decide unilaterally that the chamber needs a snack machine, purchase it, and then try to collect payment. If you feel there’s a need for something, follow the protocols for getting it approved and then collect your money.
Making Meetings Seem Like Something Less Important People Do
In high school, it was not cool to seem too engaged in what the teacher was saying. It showed you were a “nerd” or a “brown noser.” This is not high school. Pay attention in meetings. Read the agenda and materials. You can’t provide solid ideas for success if you don’t know what’s going on.
Admitting How Tuned Out You Are
Again, we’re not in high school. Meetings and events are not the time to be playing Candy Crush on your phones or swiping right on a dating app. Don’t ever say things like, “I don’t read reports” to your staff. You wouldn’t say that to your boss or your executive team when they put something together for you. Why do it in your role as a chamber board member?
These suggestions may seem comical and obvious but each made it into this article because someone in the history of board membership did these things. Not just one person and you don’t necessarily know them, but these are all examples taken from an annal of bad board behavior.
Your board role is a reflection of you as a professional and business person. You were selected for your knowledge and skills. You are among an elite few that have represented the businesses of your area. Serve proudly and with distinction. Good luck in your new role.