They are volunteers, too!

Look here for infomation and the latest techniques to develop your board or committee. The purpose is to help those who work or serve on nonprofit boards of directors or committees.

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~June 2002~
  • More Frequently Asked Questions

I always enjoy having people send me questions about boards,
and I thought I might share a couple of them with you.
~ J. Bradner ~

More Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the role of the executive committee?
  An executive committee is composed of the officers of the board and frequently includes the committee chairs. It is in place to decide emergency issues that cannot wait until the next board meeting. However, executive committees must be careful not to take on so much authority that those board members who are not on the executive board are disfranchised. Email can be a good way for the executive board to get feedback from all before making a decision that can't wait. In addition, the executive board can email to inform the entire board promptly of decisions it has made.
2. Speaking of email:
How can we use email to make board meetings more efficient?

I still believe important decisions should be made when people face each other around a table. However, email can be a good way to distribute agenda and other board materials that are to be reviewed before a meeting. Background material, which board members have requested, can be sent by email between meetings as well as staff or board member reports about assignments they have completed. It's much easier and timelier to send things by email than to run to the copier machine, make copies, find an envelope, make a label and put a packet in the mail.

I remember well those times as President or Executive Director I had to telephone everyone on the board list because there was a change in time or date, and in the "very olden days", there wasn't even voice mail, let alone email. (And we walked to board meetings uphill both ways. Right?)

Do, however, make sure your board members understand that they need to check their email regularly!

3. Should the executive director have a vote on the board?

While this is not illegal in my state, my answer is "no". I believe the executive director has significant influence in being able to make recommendations to the board about policy issues. I also believe that final policy should be decided by the volunteers (the board members) and not by people who receive a salary from the organization.

If a board does decide to give the executive director a vote, make sure he/she leaves the room and does not vote when the matter of executive director compensation is discussed. Executive directors voting on their own compensation would definitely be a conflict of interest.

4. How do I know if board members are meddling?

What might be called meddling on one board may not be meddling on another. For example, in a very small organization where board members also volunteer to help with administrative work, this is not meddling but essential to the survival of the organization. However, in a well-staffed organization, the board member who stands over the shoulder of employees telling them how to do their job (unless asked by the board and executive director member to do so as training) is meddling and doing the executive director's job. Such board members can use their time better by doing a good job of oversight of the results the staff and executive director produce.

Meddling usually happens because of anxiety on the part of the board members. They know they are responsible for the organization, and they are sometimes baffled about how to provide oversight. That's why boards need to be governance bodies-developing the policies that will help the executive director and his/her staff not to go astray. For example, organizations need good personnel policies, they need financial management policies that do not put all responsibilities for dealing with money in the hands of one individual and they need to make sure that the organization pays its FICA, files required forms on time, has adequate insurance, adheres to lobbying regulations and pays the executive director "a reasonable salary". But most challenging the board needs to make sure the organization is fulfilling its mission in responsible and responsive ways

5. Other good web sources on boards:

Jeanne H. Bradner

Jeanne H. Bradner is an author, consultant, trainer and speaker on volunteerism, board development and leadership. She is the author of three publications, Passionate Volunteerism, The Board Member's Guide, A Beneficial Bestiary and Leading Volunteers for Results: Building Communities Today. She served as director of the Illinois Governor's Office of Voluntary Action, Midwest Regional Director of ACTION, and Executive Director of the Illinois Commission on Community Service. She is the volunteer program specialist for Illinois' Harper College Volunteer Management curriculum.

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Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.
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