SEJ Board Service FAQ's: The Whats and Whys of Serving on the SEJ Board

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How does someone become an SEJ board member?
Who is eligible to serve on the board?
How many board members are there?
Are there any restrictions on which board members may vote or be board officers?
What is the term of a board member?
Are there restrictions on the number of terms a board member may serve?
What happens if a board member changes jobs while serving?
How often does the board meet?
Where does the board meet?
Are board meetings open to all SEJ members?
Does SEJ pay travel costs associated with board meetings and other board business?
What is the expected time commitment for a board member?
What are board members' basic responsibilities?
Are board members expected to help with fundraising?
Are board members expected to help support SEJ financially themselves?
How are the board's responsibilities divided up?
How does the board operate?
What if there is official business that needs to be taken care of between meetings?
What are the board's governing documents?
What is the board's relationship with SEJ staff members?
How much fun is it to serve on the SEJ board?
 

How does someone become an SEJ board member?

Board members are elected by the SEJ membership at each year's annual conference. Members who want to stand for election should file candidates' statements with the SEJ Elections Committee by the deadline set for each year's election (usually at least 45 days before the annual conference). See SEJ election policies. The board may also appoint a member to a seat vacated in mid-term. Appointed members must then stand for election at the next annual conference.

Who is eligible to serve on the board?

Any Active, Associate or Academic member in good standing (not in arrears on his or her dues) may serve on the board in his or her respective membership category. Honorary members are not eligible to serve on the board.

How many board members are there?

The number of Active member seats on the board has historically been 13, although additional Active member seats may be added by board action, up to a maximum of 21. The number of Academic and Associate member seats is fixed at one each. By tradition, SEJ's founding president also sits on the board as a non-voting member.

Are there any restrictions on which board members may vote or be board officers?

All elected board members may vote on all matters before the board and may serve on any and all board committees, but only Active member representatives may serve as officers (See below).

What is the term of a board member?

Board members are generally elected for three-year terms, with roughly one-third of the total number of seats coming up for election each year. Exceptions occur when an election is held to fill the unexpired term of a board member who has resigned, in which case an initial term may be one or two years.

Are there restrictions on the number of terms a board member may serve?

Board members serve at the pleasure of the membership, and there is no limit on the number of times a member may stand for election or reelection.

What happens if a board member changes jobs while serving?

If a job change does not affect the board member's membership category or status, it has no effect on the member's position on the board. If the change requires the board member to change her or his membership status (for instance, from Active to Academic or Associate), the member is no longer eligible to hold the seat to which he or she was elected and must resign. However he or she may then stand for election again in the appropriate new membership category. If a job change means that the person is no longer eligible for SEJ membership, she or he must resign from the board.

How often does the board meet?

SEJ bylaws require the board to meet at least once a year, but by tradition it meets four times a year. Meetings are generally held on Saturdays, with occasional related events on the previous day or evening and dinner after the meeting. With travel time, each meeting usually involves a commitment of two to three days. Board members are expected to attend all meetings, except in cases of unusual professional or personal conflicts.

Where does the board meet?

Board meetings are held in various cities around the US and Canada, usually in a location where there is a strategic interest or institutional relationship that the board wants to cultivate. On occasion the board holds a virtual meeting through online and telephone connections. The fall meeting is always held during the annual conference.

Are board meetings open to all SEJ members?

Yes. All SEJ board meetings are open and on the record, other than discussion of personnel matters, which occur in executive session. SEJ members are invited and encouraged to attend. (And the action is riveting.)

Does SEJ pay travel costs associated with board meetings and other board business?

SEJ encourages board members to cover their own travel and lodging costs or seek reimbursement from employers. When this is not possible, SEJ will cover up to $2,400 a year per board member for attendance at the three non-conference board meetings (see SEJ Financial Policies). Board members are responsible for all costs associated with attending annual conferences, but SEJ may cover travel costs for other board-related business on a case-by-case basis. Board members should make every effort to minimize expenses for which they will request reimbursement, including selecting the lowest reasonable fares and rates.

What is the expected time commitment for a board member?

A board member's time commitment will vary widely depending on the special responsibilities he or she may take on, but a member should expect to spend at least five hours per week, on average, on board-related work.

What are board members' basic responsibilities?

The board has fundamental responsibility for determining and overseeing SEJ's programs, services, policies and finances. The board also hires and supervises SEJ's Executive Director, who in turn hires and supervises the rest of the organization's staff. In carrying out its responsibilities, the board and its individual members work closely and collaboratively with SEJ staff — who are responsible for the organization's operations — and, in many cases, other SEJ volunteers. Board members are also expected to be involved in outreach, developing partnerships with other organizations and being general ambassadors for SEJ.

Are board members expected to help with fundraising?

Yes. The roles and responsibilities of board members when it comes to fundraising will vary, but all are expected to play at least some role in both operational and endowment fundraising.

Are board members expected to help support SEJ financially themselves?

Yes again. While this is not an actual requirement for board service, as it is with some nonprofits, there is an expectation that board members should make an annual contribution to the SEJ endowment, of whatever they feel they can afford. The actual amounts of board members' donations will vary — in recent years they have ranged from $100 to more than $1,000 — but the most important thing is that all board members give something. 100% board financial support is especially important when it comes to fundraising from other individuals — prospective donors want to know that those responsible for running the organization are also willing to invest in its future.

How are the board's responsibilities divided up?

After each year's board election, the board elects officers and assigns members to various committees and jobs.

The President takes the lead in setting the board's and the organization's agenda for the year, is the primary liaison between the board and staff, and is in many cases SEJ's public face. The President also chairs the Executive committee, which is comprised of the board officers and is empowered to make decisions between board meetings (see below).

The Vice President for Programs oversees ongoing SEJ programs and the development of any new program initiatives. The Programs VP also chairs the Programs committee.

The Vice President for Membership oversees membership issues and initiatives to recruit new members, and chairs the Membership committee.

The Treasurer oversees SEJ's finances and chairs the Finance and Fundraising committee.

The Secretary records and reports the actions of the board at each meeting and (perhaps the most important responsibility of all) is the custodian of the Seal of the Society.

Officers of the board serve one-year terms and are eligible for reelection. Established practice has been for the President to serve two terms and then step aside.

All board members serve on at least two of the above committees, as well as taking on other board jobs and serving on committees with more specific mandates. These include (but are not limited to!) the Audit, Endowment and Awards committees, SEJournal Editorial Board, Operations Fundraising, Freedom of Information Task Force, Marketing, Outreach, Regional Programs and Spanish Language Outreach.

How does the board operate?

Most official actions by the board are taken through a process of discussion and consensusbuilding beginning in a committee, moving on to the full board and resulting in a vote of the full board. Official action is taken on the basis of a simple majority vote, except in the case of proposed amendments to the SEJ bylaws, which require a 2/3 majority of the board, followed by a 2/3 majority of the full membership.

What if there is official business that needs to be taken care of between meetings?

Most of the work of board members takes place between meetings, and board members and SEJ staff are constantly in touch via personal and group email. However SEJ bylaws dictate that official business of the board — that is actual votes — may only be conducted either in inperson meetings or via conference call. In the rare case in which there is urgent business that must be decided upon between board meetings, the bylaws empower the Executive Committee (the board officers) to act on behalf of the full board. In order to ensure accountability, the board has established a practice of consultation between the Executive Committee and the full board on such matters, and reporting on them to the full board at the next official meeting.

What are the board's governing documents?

All board actions are governed by SEJ's bylaws (see Bylaws of the Society of Environmental Journalists Inc.). The bylaws are roughly analogous to a constitution and can only be amended by a 2/3 vote of both the board and the membership.

Under the bylaws, the board is also empowered to establish policies governing such matters as finances, elections and membership qualifications. These may be established or changed by a simple majority vote of the board, and are roughly analogous to laws, which are binding upon anyone acting within or on behalf of SEJ — board members, staff, and SEJ members. (See SEJ financial policies, SEJ election policies, and SEJ membership policies.)

The board may also establish guidelines, which provide advice to all within the organization on matters that are either of less importance or may require more case-by-case judgment (e.g. see SEJ partnership guidelines).

What is the board's relationship with SEJ staff members?

In a few words: collaborative, delicate, crucial. In general, it's the board's responsibility to set realistic priorities and agendas for the organization in consultation with the Executive Director and other staff members, and it's the staff's responsibility to implement the board's priorities. In practice, of course, there's a great deal of overlap between the activities of board and staff members — SEJ's is a volunteer-driven organization, with a very active board that's deeply engaged in the organization's operations. If the board only sent directives down for the staff to execute, SEJ would grind to a halt. This is why it's crucial for the board and staff to have a strong, collaborative relationship, but also to be clear when it comes to each program and initiative who is responsible for what. The process for sorting this all out is dynamic and delicate, but in general, lines of responsibility and authority are established through a consultative process involving the President or committee chair and the Executive Director. One important principle to remember is that while the Executive Director works for the board, the rest of the staff works for the Executive Director, and that — again, in general — all requests for staff time and resources should be channeled through the ED.

How much fun is it to serve on the SEJ board?

More than you can imagine. Truly, serving on the SEJ board can be a tremendously enjoyable and rewarding experience. It's a lot of work, but that effort is rewarded by the great camaraderie among board members, staff and SEJ members and volunteers, and by the great impact that SEJ makes on the work of its members and through them on the public's understanding of environmental issues.

SEJ Board Service FAQs written by board member Peter Thomson, December 2006

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