After nine years, I have stepped down from the Board of ReSurge International. ReSurge International sends reconstructive rurgeons to help the poor around the world and at the same time, trains the next generation of reconstructive surgeons in the developing world. It is a truly amazing organization founded by Stanford plastic surgeons nearly 50 years ago. However, as best practices in the not for profit world dictate, ReSurge has term limits. As such, completing my three three-year terms meant It was the end of my Board service. It may be the end of my service, but it is not the end of my commitment to this wonderful organization, an organization where I have learned so much, from the principles of good governance to leading organizational transitions to understanding the global healthcare crisis resulting from the lack of access to surgery worldwide.
The organization has come a long way in 9 years. It has formalized the Global Training Program, offering a curriculum for each of the specific procedures required by reconstructive surgeons in the developing world. We now have a database of assessments for our worldwide surgical partners, so we can track the progress of their training and their proficiency with certain techniques. In combination with Skinceuticals, we have launched a special initiative to train, mentor and develop female reconstructive plastic surgeons around the world, and six accomplished surgeons from Bangladesh, Mozambique, Ecuador, Nepal and Zimbabwe have been chosen to be the first participants.
Throughout all nine years, I was a member of the Nominating and Governance Committee. Though the primary function of this committee was to identify and on-board new board members, we also dealt with the effectiveness of the board and improving our own performance. But it was the former issue that was always the toughest, since many people have a hard time deciding to pull the trigger and serve on a board.
Board service is so important for the organization, because it provides the experience outside expertise and management skills to support the enterprise. As valuable as that is to the organization, the service is just as important if not more so to the individuals. Seasoned managers have the opportunity to share expertise for the good of others in a totally new type of business milieu. Younger professionals have the exposure to the board room, where they can experience first-hand the dynamics of a board discussion and grasp the difference between governance and management. At the same time, by advancing the mission of the organization you are helping to change the world for the better. As such, why wouldn’t you do it?
For those who may be pondering the idea of joining a board, here is a way to think about it; serving on a non-profit board is not about you, rather it is about 4 things — to make it easy to remember, it is about the PEGS.
P is the fact that you need to be passionate about the mission. ReSurge transforms lives by providing free reconstructive surgery and medical training, so it is very inspirational, and it was easy for me to feel passionate about the mission. We encourage all of our board members to participate on a medical trip, because then you experience first-hand the transformative power of what we do. For many of us, it is life-changing and fuels the passion we have for the future state ReSurge envisions, a world where anyone with a congenital deformity or injury has access to reconstructive surgical care. Without that passion for the mission, you won’t be engaged, and without engagement you won’t be effective. So only consider those situations that speak to your heart.
E is about extrapolating from your experience. As I said in a Ted Talk at my alma mater, The Haas School of Business, a few years back with the great training we get in our MBA program, we can offer so much to the not-for-profit sector. In fact, while serving on a board you come to realize some of the skills and talents that we take for granted are actually of great value to others. Coming from the human capital space, for example, it was natural for me to chair the Search Committee when our Executive Director retired, which was somewhat of a relief for my fellow Directors. We all have many gifts to offer and these roles allow us to be generous.
G is for the fact that not only do we offer our expertise, but we gain learnings as well. At my first Resurge Board meeting, it was difficult to keep up with the conversations about the procedures, places, people and challenges faced by this organization. Now so many years later, I can go on at length about the need for access to surgical care around the world and the various studies from the World Health Organization and Lancet that note this as a top global healthcare issue. I know the difference between microtia, a congenital deformity where an individual has no external ear, and ptosis, where the muscles of the upper eyelid droop creating vision issues. I can point out to you that untreated burns affect more women in Africa than Malaria and HIV combined. I can and do explain these things to people regularly, because I have learned so much from my service.
S is for supporting governance. It is an adjustment for some new board members to understand that a board governs, it does not manage. The staff runs the place, not the board. The board provides strategic guidance, fiduciary oversight, and supports, selects and evaluates the CEO. Additionally, board relationships are unlike those of colleagues in a traditional business; although we may serve on different committees, we are all peers, regardless of whether one is a company chairperson and another is a young lawyer; despite differences in age or experience levels, all are equal members of the Board and should have an equal voice at the table. Good governance is like the lighting in a museum; you couldn’t see the art without the lights, and when it’s bad, you notice. When it is good it is effective, effortless and elegant.
So if you are considering board service, think of the PEGS and be sure your peg fits the opportunity.
And of course, as I remain a ReSurge International ambassador, anyone who is interested in Board service tweet to me @marionmcgovern or send me a message on Linked In or here on my website,