Should you serve on a board?

Photo courtesy of U.S. Wheat Associates.

Sooner or later, you’ll likely be invited to serve on a board of directors. It could be your local Farm Bureau, industry trade association, water district or school. It could be your church, food bank or other nonprofit.

Should you accept?

Your first reaction may be that you don’t have the time to join a board, said Davon Cook, a Pinion principal and family business adviser. You might wonder what you can bring to the table of some other business’s board.

Most farmers and ranchers bring more value to a board-member role than they realize, however.

“By running your own farm or ag business, you’re already a multi-tasker,” Cook said. “You’ve got a broad view of what it takes to run any organization. You may not be deeply expert in every aspect, but you certainly are exposed every day to finance, operations, human resources and strategy. These are categories that every business needs.”

Reasons to serve

If you are asked, consider these reasons for becoming a board member:

1. You can give back to the community. Your business knowledge and skills bring value for another organization and the people it serves. For example, you know what your labor costs are and what it takes to keep team members and employees engaged. “You also probably have quite a bit of understanding of legal compliance required as an employer,” Cook points out. “All these translate to other situations.” Beyond your skills, you bring a wide circle of family, friends and acquaintances who can help with the fundraising and community relations efforts so important to many organizations.

2. You can help shape the direction of that organization. There is no shortage of challenges facing organizations and industries today. Your experience and capabilities are essential to

the mission and health of an organization. Board members can help navigate through tough times. They can help identify opportunities. Of course, directors are also key in choosing an organization’s leadership. The main duties of board members include recruiting, supervising, evaluating and compensating management and executives. Board members also provide direction for the business through a mission statement, establishing bylaws and a system of governing the business. They act as fiduciaries to protect the business assets and shareholder investments, and they monitor and control business functions.

3. You’re going to learn and grow from your board service. Outside organizations often have a more formal structure than farms or ranches do, so you will learn about other business practices. You will also get to know other successful professionals. Such networking can sometimes lead to new business opportunities. Further, you will absorb things from fellow board members. You will develop new skills,. and, in the process, you willbuild leadership, credibility and influence.

Your obligations

Of course, you will take on new obligations as a board member. After all, you’re representing other members or shareholders, not just yourself. Board meetings require preparation. Members should read financial and other management reports beforehand. They should be ready to assimilate that information and ask intelligent questions. They should commit to attending the meetings regularly.

Your service as a board member shouldn’t be about renumeration. Non-profits typically don’t pay their board members, although they may offer a nominal stipend to cover travel costs. Most often, board service is voluntary, a labor of love for an organization or its mission.

If there is a cause you believe in or a commodity or industry you’re invested in, serving on a board of directors can be a good way to drive change and shape its future. In the process, you and your business can benefit from your exposure to other leaders, ideas and organizational management. If you are asked to serve on a board, take the plunge and say yes.

Editor’s note: Maxson Irsik, a certified public accountant, advises owners of professionally managed agribusinesses and family-owned ranches on ways to achieve their goals. Whether an owner’s goal is to expand and grow the business, discover and leverage core competencies or protect the current owners’ legacy through careful structuring and estate planning, Max applies his experience working on and running his own family’s farm to find innovative ways to make it a reality. Contact him at [email protected].