One of the potential perks of serving as a corporate board member: the ability for professionals to engage in business development with fellow directors, and possibly, the organization itself. Many believe that this type of activity is reserved solely for a non-profit board of directors, but in reality it happens at all levels of board service — non-profit, private and public. In some circles, business development in the boardroom is frowned upon as the type of activity that can lead to conflicts of interest, and potentially unwanted front page headlines. I, however, believe that there is nothing wrong with business development in the boardroom — as long as it is done the right way, and in a manner which does not interfere with one's fiduciary duties to the organization.
The worse thing a new board member can do is show up to his/her first board meeting and start handing out business cards. Instead, that is often preceded by a brief description of what they do for a job, followed by “I'll give you a call in the next couple of days.” To board members who take their service seriously, there is no bigger turn-off. It tells the other board members that you are there for only one thing: business. In reality, it is ok to join a board with the primary intent of gaining business, however, it is not recommended to go about it in such an overt manner.
From a corporate governance best practices perspective, the onerous falls upon the chair of the board to establish the business development parameters through a comprehensive board orientation program well before a new board member steps into their first board meeting. Such an orientation should include a review of the organization's conflict of interest policy — which should at the very least address business between a board member and the organization, as well as business between board members. In most circumstances it is not inappropriate to engage in boardroom development, but the policy should at least address the do's and don'ts.
Acting in compliance with an organization's conflict of interest policy, boardroom-related business will, in time, come to a new board member. The important thing is to let it happen. Most often it will come to that board member if they demonstrate those particular skill-sets through exemplary boardroom service: attending board meetings, showing up prepared and being an active participant. The value of those services will be recognized and business opportunities will present themselves.
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