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Rejecting a Board Vacancy


28 October 2014 at 10:01 am
Xavier Smerdon
The Not for Profit sector offers great diversity in skills and culture and its the duty of those recruiting to capitalise on this and for aspiring board members to know what they are bringing to the table, writes adviser and researcher Conrad Liveris.

Xavier Smerdon | 28 October 2014 at 10:01 am


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Rejecting a Board Vacancy
28 October 2014 at 10:01 am

The Not for Profit sector offers great diversity in skills and culture and its the duty of those recruiting to capitalise on this and for aspiring board members to know what they are bringing to the table, writes adviser and researcher Conrad Liveris.

Over the past few weeks and months I have been in discussions about joining the board of a major Not for Profit.

As with all board vacancies, there was much to weigh up for both parties.

Accepting or rejecting the offer weighed heavily on me. Eventually I decided to pass on the offer.

I firmly believe that directors need to bring capital, knowledge or networks. Every director must ask themselves constantly what they are adding to the organisation.

I could not see what I was bringing to the board. While my ego was growing and I felt important, I had to marry this with what I know directors need to do.

Board members in smaller organisations and non-profits can be over-empowered and under-utilised. There can be a lack of direction or a blurring of governance and management roles, along with a focus on personal ambitions and individual interests.

We have all seen directors who don’t pull their weight or are self-promoters.

Sure, part of this comes with the territory. That is only because it is allowed.

Organisations-at-large must be conscious of this. Board members need to have a purpose and use – what are they bringing to the table? What is their value-add?

Everyone should be concerned by a blurred line between governance and operations in community and Not for Profit organisations. We need boards to guide CEOs objectively. This can only be achieved with boards that know their role.

The best part of the Not for Profit sector is the great diversity in our skills and culture. Capitalising on this is imperative, especially in governance roles.

Organisations can only be effective as the people they employ, and a breadth of talent helps this.

It is the duty of those seeking board positions, and the chair recruiting, to be conscious of this. Aspiring board members must know what they are bringing to the table – too often I see that they don’t.

Equally, current boards must set parameters and specific expectations for new directors. We all know that a floundering practitioner can do more harm than good.

Over the past year I’ve been increasing my interaction with executives and boards – primarily around non-profit and start-up areas. This is undoubtedly fascinating.

As an ambitious young person myself, I find it an interesting and complex area. Often egos and relationships are at play in more subtle ways. For a board that I chair I am doing my best to break the back-room vibe. While our operational staff have a good relationship with the executives, they know that I am present and that I want the organisation to grow and develop.

When I am working with boards and directors looking for guidance I go back to basics. Boards need to have: capable people, a vision for the future, quality leadership and a passion for innovation.

Once this fusion is achieved our organisations can be most effective. Directors must consider where they can add value.

Part of this is why I didn’t take up that board vacancy: I needed to know what I was doing there.

Every board has the capacity to define this.

About the author: Conrad Liveris is an advocate, adviser and researcher – primarily on economics and policy questions. He is currently advising organisations on diversity and inclusion with a focus on gender and generations. He researches for Australian and global academic institutions on diversity in the economy, including on corporate governance and superannuation. Additionally, Leveris is building a portfolio of board-level positions where he can support increases in productivity and innovation

He holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and international and is undertaking a Master’s degree in commerce and human resources.


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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