3 reasons to serve on a non-profit board

By Caro U. Rock

Diving into board service

Last month, having reached the end of my term, I stepped down as a member of the board of trustees of Jefferson Health, a system comprising 18 hospitals with more than 42,000 employees in Philadelphia, including Thomas Jefferson University. The university has 10 colleges and three schools, including the Sidney Kimmel Medical College (one of the oldest and largest medical schools in the country) as well as an NCI designated cancer center, one of only 70 in the country.  It is also home to Health Partners Plans, a health maintenance organization that offers a range of health coverage, including Medicare, Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program. At over $9 billion in revenues, Jefferson is nationally ranked in 10 specialties. 
I proudly served this wonderful institution for over 15 years, including a term as vice chair and several terms as chair of the nominating and governance and institutional advancement committees.  When I joined in 2008, Jefferson had three hospitals and only two female board members. As I leave, we have significantly expanded our clinical and academic offerings and have greatly diversified our board, which now has its first female chair. I very much valued my experience on a number of levels, and while I will miss my board service, I will continue to be supportive as a member of the academic affairs committee and will remain engaged as Jefferson approaches its 200th anniversary.
There are many reasons I chose to join a non-profit board in general and a hospital board in particular. First, I was raised with the principle that you must give back to your community, whether it is financially or with your time, connections or advice. Most non-profits need all four.
Second, I believe you must agree with and be passionate about the organization’s mission. Jefferson’s mission of improving lives, striving to be bold and innovative, and putting safety and patients first was appealing to me. Its long history of serving the city and surrounding regions has been and continues to be extraordinary. I felt I could contribute in many ways toward improving health inequities in Philadelphia while providing important oversight of Jefferson’s financial health and operating success.
Third, I liked and admired the people. Everyone — from the top leadership and hospital staff of more than 4,600 physicians and 9,300 nurses to the administrators, educators and board members themselves — were all such dedicated and hardworking individuals. I was especially impressed and inspired by their commitment during the pandemic. They were true heroes. 
Our board consisted of the most active, collaborative and insightful individuals I have ever had the pleasure of serving with. Despite the fact that this was a non-profit board with almost all of us still working, everyone put in long hours to evaluate strategic opportunities and threats, complete numerous mergers and partnerships and successfully effect a CEO transition. Throughout it all, we developed strong and lasting relationships.
Family businesses have long recognized and valued community service and hospitals and health systems are at the heart of many communities. On my Jefferson board, over half of the members ran family companies and the rest were in powerful leadership positions in the Philadelphia region — each bringing a needed skill set. I enjoyed the camaraderie, and I will miss the intellectual challenge and emotional stimulation that this board service provided. I highly recommend everyone consider board opportunities in their community. It is a superb way to develop governance skills that benefit the business world.  
Audio Sound Duration: 
July/August 2023

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