By John Cerasuolo

Despite our diversity of backgrounds and work experience, those of us serving as board members of a state think tank have one thing in common: We care deeply about liberty, and we are dedicated to supporting our organizations’ efforts to make our home states the freest in the nation.

But it’s not always easy to know how we as board members can best support our think tanks. Even for those of us with board experience in other arenas, figuring out how to be an effective, well-engaged think tank board member can be a challenge. There is no real playbook for success. We are figuring it out as we go.

That is why I’ve been so happy to see, in recent years, a nascent peer network form amongst state think tank board members—thanks in large part to the efforts of State Policy Network. The SPN Annual Meeting has become a valuable opportunity for board members to meet and connect with one another, to share ideas, and to learn from one another how we can more effectively help our organizations grow and succeed in
our missions.

I remember well my first SPN Annual Meeting in 2009, in Asheville, North Carolina, not long after I had taken over as chairman of the board for the Beacon Center of Tennessee. There were only a handful of board members in attendance, but I left that meeting so inspired. It gave me a clear vision of what the Beacon Center could be, practical knowledge and skills to help us through the growing pains we were facing, and the powerful knowledge that we were not alone in our efforts.

Since then, SPN has been building out a much more deliberate, focused board education and outreach effort. Last year’s SPN Annual Meeting, which the Beacon Center was honored to host in Nashville, included sessions designed just for board members. We had an opportunity to learn from leading experts in fundraising and organizational development, as well as hear about the exciting policy advancements being made throughout the network. Perhaps most importantly, we were able to connect with one another, to learn from fellow board members about what is working in their states, to share our challenges, and to exchange ideas.

The SPN Annual Meeting has given me the opportunity to develop friendships and a support network that pays dividends both in what I can offer to Beacon and in magnifying the value I receive from my board role. I consider it my annual refueling activity, where I fill my tank and prepare for another year of big challenges and accomplishments.

Building on connections made at past SPN Annual Meetings, a few of us who sit on boards of organizations in the southeastern US have now begun talking regularly, in support of our CEOs’ efforts to find ways to leverage our organizations’ work on a regional level. Such regional efforts are an exciting development, holding the promise of great impact for the work of our organizations, and reminding of the collaborations and synergies that can emerge out of a peer network.

Last year in Nashville, as I looked around the full room during the board member-only breakfast SPN hosted that week, with board members representing nearly 30 state think tanks from all over the country, I was heartened by how far we’ve come since my first meeting in 2009. I look forward to seeing an even bigger group this August in San Antonio and to the great ideas and connections that will emerge.

See more information about the 25th Annual Meeting opportunities for state think tank board members.

John Cerasuolo is the president and CEO of ADS Security, the 21st-largest security company in the US. He is board chairman of the Beacon Center of Tennessee and serves on the advisory council of the Atlas Network and the board of the Bastiat Society.