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Board Member’s Memo: Lessons from a Nonprofit Board Member

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by Joshua Tallent, Director of Outreach and Education at Firebrand Technologies –

Joshua Tallent

As I finish up my last year as an IBPA Board member, I have been reflecting on all the wonderful lessons I have learned over the last few years serving on the Board. Here, I share some of those lessons with you in hopes they will provide you with some inspiration and encouragement.

1. Get involved.

I have been serving on industry committees and working groups for many years, but this was the first opportunity I had to serve on a Board of Directors. It was a great honor to be considered and chosen, and being on the Board has given me many more opportunities to understand how IBPA works and how our membership is impacted by the organization.

However, what I have learned has been invaluable to me in a variety of other contexts as well, including serving on the Board at my church and serving on other committees in the publishing industry. Being on the IBPA Board has made me want to be more involved, not less, and has taught me many lessons that allow me to add more value to the other organizations with which I volunteer. In addition, serving on the Board has been extremely fulfilling. I’m going to have to find another way to fill that bucket when my term expires.

2. Listen well.

I have served on the Board with a long list of amazing people, including Ian Lamont, Karla Olson, and Elizabeth Turnbull, who are also terming out this year. It has been encouraging to see just how smart and engaged my peers are, and I have tried very hard to watch them carefully, to listen to their perspectives, and to learn from them.

Listening to others has helped me learn more about the overall process of Board leadership, and has helped me see the strengths and special gifts of my fellow Board members. Knowing those strengths helps me understand better how to interact with them, and has helped me pay more attention to their thoughts and ideas.

3. Keep your mouth shut.

Listening to other people takes a lot of effort for someone like me. I’m a naturally engaging and talkative person, despite my introverted tendencies, and it is not uncommon for me to open my mouth before my brain has a chance to really catch up. I have tried to counter that tendency in my interactions on the Board, and to only speak when I feel like I have something helpful to say.

Speaking too quickly makes it hard to listen. As my mama always said, “if your mouth is open then your ears are shut.”

There is a downside to keeping quiet, though. I have learned over the years to keep my mouth shut when controversial topics come up instead of speaking up. No one, myself included, likes to be the person with a dissenting opinion, or the one who has thoughts that go against the accepted norms of the group. I tend to clam up when controversial topics come up because I don’t want to be misunderstood or maligned. That has not been a big problem in my time on the Board, but in the few times something controversial has come up I have tended to just stay quiet.

4. Open your mouth.

That leads me to my next lesson: Sometimes it is necessary to say something. In my first term on the Board, one of the other members was an inspiration to me in this regard. She always seemed to be the one who was willing to say the difficult things, even when it was not easy to do. She challenged the status quo and asked hard questions that held the organization’s feet to the fire.

Every good organization needs leaders who are willing and able to say the hard things, to stand up for the little guy, or to inject some hard truths into the conversation. While the disagreements we had on the Board were never about topics of grave national importance, it is almost always helpful to have well-reasoned dissenting voices. Don’t be afraid to speak up if that is you.

I highly encourage you to get involved-to volunteer in your communities and in the publishing industry. Listen well, learn from your peers, be quiet when you need to be, and be vocal when it is helpful. You have a valuable role to play, and we are waiting to see you shine!

Also, let me conclude by encouraging you to get involved in IBPA and take advantage of the resources available to you as a member. Whether you are an author publisher or work for a large independent publisher, IBPA is a valuable resource with education, networking connections, and member benefits that you will find helpful in your work.

Joshua Tallent is the director of outreach and education at Firebrand Technologies. He serves on the IBPA Board of Directors and the Executive Committee, and leads the Member Benefits Committee. Joshua is an expert in metadata and an acclaimed teacher and guide on digital publishing. You can find him on Twitter @jtallent and @firebrandtech.

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