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Recognizing Board Service: Benefits of Directors

Recently, I was asked by the president of a National Club Association (NCA) member club what types of benefits clubs typically give to their leadership. The honest answer was that I hadn’t the slightest idea. This lack of understanding sparked the idea to do a little research by asking managers of country, city and yacht clubs in different parts of the country whether their board members receive any sort of gifts in recognition of their service. In the past, being a member of a club board was viewed as an accomplishment or reflection of social status, but with the frenetic pace of our lives today, demands of parenting and work, it can be difficult to recruit future leaders.  

Barriers to Board Service 
For clubs with contested elections, asking someone to put their name up for a vote by the membership is a barrier that can be tough to overcome. Many club members with the background and temperament well-suited to board leadership simply don’t want to subject themselves to a vote and face the prospect of losing an election among their peers. While clubs that elect their boards by slates chosen by a selection committee may have less difficulty finding suitable candidates, it is still asking members to devote a significant amount of their time to serve the club and its members. Ultimately, the main obstacle may be the very reason people join a private club—to provide themselves with a respite from the responsibilities and pressures of life.  So, after overcoming all of that and recruiting members to serve in leadership, how do clubs thank their boards for the work they do? 

With a multitude of constituencies and individual perspectives on what is good or bad about a club, serving as a board member can often feel like a thankless pursuit. Making things more awkward or uncomfortable is the fact that board members can sometimes make decisions that are not very popular among their peers at the club. If this is the case, I can assure you they will hear about it. Every club president or board member I’ve met serves in a leadership capacity because they love their clubs and want to ensure its future. Whether they ran in a contested election, elected as a slate of candidates, or appointed, each of them takes on responsibility for the financial position of the club and all manner of kudos, complaints and criticisms. There are, however, both tangible and intangible benefits that clubs can give as a token of gratitude for board service.  

Examples of Recognition 
These gifts of recognition can vary depending on the club and the individual who is serving on the board. The intangible is that some of us who have served or are serving in a leadership role are imbued with a desire to serve.  

Personally, I can trace my sense of service to an early age. It has stayed with me throughout my professional career in politics and government, which began by serving on my first campaign at the age of 12. Nearly 40 years later, the underlying call to be of service hasn’t faded—though it has at times taken different forms and intensities. Robert K. Greenleaf is credited with founding the concept of servant leadership and among his many writings on the subject he wrote, “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” I suspect most club leaders share an innate desire to serve whether it is in their business, community, charity or club. For me, and I assume many others who serve on club boards, the acts of service are indeed their own reward. Yet, there are tangible expressions of appreciation clubs provide their leaders for their service. As you might expect, there are wide variances among clubs based on their traditions and cultures. 

While there are sometimes wild rumors about boards receiving significant benefits for their service, the truth is the most common thing clubs do for their board members is a meal for themselves and their spouses around the Christmas holiday. There are, however, other examples of things clubs do to recognize board members for their service.  

  • Holiday gift – several clubs allow the president to select a gift for board members to be given at a holiday dinner hosted by the club for board members and their spouses. The gifts can range in value but are typically less than $200 per board member. 
  • Discounts – some clubs provide discounts on club-wide social events to both make it less onerous on the pocketbook and entice board members to attend. 
  • iPads – several clubs contacted provide board members with an iPad upon entering their term. The devices are the primary means of distributing information the board member needs to be up to date on the governance of the club. Typically, the iPads are returned upon retirement from the board. 
  • Retiring board members are often provided a club-related gift such as a print or rendering of the club. 
  • Retiring presidents are often provided a special gift to recognize their service not only as a board member, but as president. 

Matching Club Culture 
As someone who decided to run in a contested election (three times so far) to serve on my club’s board, I can honestly say I had no idea whether or what my club did to recognize the service and time I was willing to provide for the betterment of the club’s future. I suspect that’s the case for nearly all club leaders, and it should be. So, whether your club recognizes the contributions of board members with a dinner at the end of the year, discounts to club events or a special gift upon retirement, the main thing I’ve learned in this process is that it should match the culture and traditions of the club. In the final analysis it should be the intangible rewards that matter most to a good board member. The unexpected “thank you for all you do for the club” from a fellow member, a sense of accomplishment when a club project has been completed, or knowing the club is in a better financial position than when you began your service are what really matters to the best board members. 

Joe Trauger is NCA’s Vice President of Government Relations. He can be reached at [email protected] or 202-822-9822.