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They are volunteers, too!
Look here for information 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.

~July 2008 ~

Being An Effective Board Member

Organizations have obligations to their board members, whether a governance board for a nonprofit or an advisory group of a government based organization.  Those expectations should be spelled out when someone is recruited and reviewed periodically by an ad hoc committee of the leadership group.  What does the organization do to make its members as effective and informed as possible?  It should be outlined in guidelines, similar to the position description for a traditional direct service volunteer.
         So too, members have obligations in their role on the leadership body.  Sometimes it is only advisory and sometimes it has important legal and financial obligations.  Here is a checklist to share with board members to remind them of their obligations.

A.         Represent the needs of all constituents.  Someone is often asked to serve because he/she has a special interest, skill, or constituency group knowledge and experience, but becoming a board member requires broader thinking.  Boards are places where compromise and what’s the best for everyone is the rule.

B.         Carefully consider what you say and do.  Strong feelings and passion about a topic are good, but not when delivered in a manner that no one can hear.  Also, it is important maintain confidentiality of information of the organization’s workings with others. 

C.         Know your role.  You are not a micromanager.  Haranguing the staff about minutia is not your duty.  The leadership role is about big picture and policies.

D.         Follow the chain of command.  If someone approaches you about a problem with the organization, defer to the paid staff or to the board president or chair.  Never try to fix it on your own.

E.         Do your homework and ask questions. Read minutes, financial reports, program overviews.  Ask for reports on the progress of specific projects.  Be an enthusiastic learner.  Share information you find with those doing the work on a daily basis and your colleagues on the board.

F.         Listen with an open mind.  You can frequently learn more from someone who disagrees with you, than from a person who agrees.  The person with the opposing opinion can challenge your thinking and add to your knowledge. 

G.         Avoid surprises.  If you know have a concern about something related to the organization or the program, do not spring it on unsuspecting chair or president at a board meeting.  Talk with the leadership in advance and get his/her advice on how best to proceed.  No one likes to be blind-sided.

H.         Put the goals first.  Effective leadership boards have a strategic plan with goals and objectives.  Ask about them and attend meetings where they are reviewed or revised.

I.         Display good manners.  Courtesy is lacking in much of today’s fast past environment.  Listening politely when you don’t agree (and never interrupt) is noticed. 

J.         Support the majority.  As a board member things will not always go your way.  The key to success as a board member is to support the will of the majority, even when it hurts.   It is part of being a team.

K.         Don't make snap decisions.  It is important to study and ponder decisions.  Look at everything and all information before wading in with a decision

L.         Discuss the issues.  Issues before a board deserve discussion.  Participate fully in the pros and cons of an issue.  Take the side you don’t agree with, just to give yourself the full perspective on the topic under discussion.  Raise issues you think might be missing, too.

M.         Know and understand the responsibilities of being a member of a team.  Know your role and mentor new board members.  In fact, you can help by finding candidates for the board who can meet all the above criteria and bring a needed skill to the leadership board.

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