In a NY Times Op-Ed column, Your Loyalties are Your Life, David Brooks introduced the concept of Loyalty developed by the American philosopher, Josiah Royce. Royce proposed that value and meaning in our lives is to be found in the causes we are attached to and for which we are prepared to devote our energies and resources, rather than from following our”fleeting, capricious and insatiable desires.”

For Royce, “The answer to the question ‘Who are you?’ really begins in earnest when a man (or woman) mentions his/her calling.” Loyalty is “the willing and practical and thorough going devotion of a person to a cause.”

The Philosophy of Loyalty, Josiah Royce,1908.

This idea has struck me powerfully. As I think about the people I have admired, they have each been deeply committed to a cause, whether it is their family, a social issue or a community. I believe that this idea can apply to deepen and strengthen the experience of service on nonprofit boards.

For effective Boards and their leaders, the vision of the organization–the change in the world it is committed to–is personally important. It provides an element of meaning for their lives for which they willingly devote their time, energies and resources.

How do we find out if this loyalty exists and what can we do to strengthen it?

The answer is actually quite simple. We need to talk about it.

  • In recruitment, we need to probe the reasons why a potential candidate cares personally about our cause and what time and resources they want to commit to its achievement
  • At board meetings we need to talk about the experiences with the mission that resonate most powerfully with us
  • In annual goal-setting conversations, board members should be encouraged to express their aspirations for how their work has and will advance the achievement of the vision
  • Board leaders should model loyalty through their personal commitment and by supporting the aspirations of each board member
  • Board member contributions should be regularly acknowledged
  • The organization’s vision statement should be on the top of every board document


Board service is an opportunity for us to find deep meaning in our lives. We need to make the greatest use of this gift. Acknowledging and developing Loyalty can make a difference in the effectiveness of nonprofit boards.