Jill Friedman Fixler
Board Members Are Volunteers Too
Imagine volunteering for an activity where you have unlimited responsibility, no supervision, no training, little recognition, a possible life sentence and no position description. You will be subjected to endless and often pointless meetings. Sometimes you wonder just why you signed up for this! So you hang back, rarely participate and find every excuse under the sun to be somewhere else instead of at a meeting. No one seems to notice or hold you accountable for this behavior. Pretty soon you are there in name only. Is it any wonder that we have difficulty recruiting and retaining board members? No wonder boards don’t work!
Volunteer managers figured out long ago that you get what you give. Without an investment of time and energy, volunteers will eventually drift away. Volunteer managers know that providing organizational support, investing in planning, and making the right match for the organization and the volunteer are investments that pay big dividends in terms of time, talent and retention of valuable volunteers. The basic core competencies of a volunteer program are just as important in creating an environment where a board member can be successful. The core competencies* of a volunteer program are:
- Organizational support
- Needs assessment and program planning
- Effective recruitment
- Interviewing and placement
- Orientation and training
- Supervision and support
- Retention strategies
*© Metro Volunteers and JFFixler & Associates 2005
These basic principles of volunteer engagement apply to board development as well. When an organization invests in its board the same way it invests in its volunteers, the result is engaged and effective leadership. Redefined in the context of board development, the core competencies are a guideline for effective board engagement.
- A budget for board development that includes resources for board training, board recognition, an annual board retreat, and board social/networking activities.
- Appropriate levels of directors and officers liability insurance.
- Streamlined board communication utilizing the benefits of technology including a list serve, on-line board meetings, password protected pages for postings on the website and conference calls.
- The ability to engage effectively with the board is part of the Executive Director/CEO responsibility and is reflected in their job description and performance review process.
Needs assessment and program planning:
- The roles and responsibilities of board members are articulated and documented in clear and concise position descriptions.
- The position descriptions are tied to impact, outcome and the fulfillment of the organizations vision and mission.
- The board is clear and focused on their governance role while paid staff is equally clear and focused on their role of implementation of policy and program.
- Both staff and board members are held accountable for their relationship with one another.
- The work of the board is a continually evolving process driven by strategic planning, environmental realities and the needs of the constituents that the organization serves.
- Each board member is encouraged and, in some cases, required to have a committee assignment.
- There is a recruitment plan in place for continuous board recruitment.
- Board recruitment is targeted to individuals who have specific skills, are donors, served on a board committee or task force, represent clients or constituents, or are direct service volunteers.
- Recruitment is focused, personalized and involves face-to-face conversation with a board representative and the Executive Director/CEO.
- Potential board members are drawn to your board because of its solid reputation, strategic focus and clear leadership role.
Interviewing and placement:
- All prospective board members have an interview with at least one board member and the organization’s Executive Director/CEO.
- The interview is designed to identify the strengths of the candidate in terms of a fit with the existing board, the skills that they bring to the board and their ability to be strategic thinkers.
- Candidates are required to attend one board meeting before they make their decision to join the board.
- Candidates that fit the profile for a board member and are willing to commit to be accountable for performance, board relationships, a minimum donation (identified in the interview and in the position description), and consistent attendance at meetings and events are selected for a board assignment.
Orientation and planning:
- Each new board member is given a board handbook that is updated annually and includes by-laws, articles of incorporation, position descriptions, board policy and procedures.
- Each new board member is required to attend a board orientation where the board culture, board policies and procedures, and communication strategies are outlined, and committee assignments are made.
- Each new board member is assigned a coach/mentor from one of the more senior board members to help them acclimate to the board culture.
- Board members have the opportunity to change their committee assignments annually.
Supervision and support:
- Board performance in terms of attendance, participation, committee responsibility and financial contributions is evaluated quarterly.
- Each board member is held accountable for their performance and is evaluated annually by a member of the executive committee, board development committee, vice chairman or chairman of the board.
- Poorly performing board members are identified quickly, receive feedback, and are excused from the board if the problem persists.
- Board members have a person to talk with about their problems and concerns.
- Board members receive both formal and informal recognition for the work that they do.
- Board successes are celebrated and documented.
- Board members have flexibility in what they do and where they do it.
- Board members are encouraged to try different areas of board work.
- Board members know that the work they do has an impact on the organization.
We have an obligation to treat board members with respect for their time and talent. When we take board members for granted, abuse their time, forget to plan for their work, or confuse their roles, the result is a board that doesn’t work. However, when we respect them by creating an environment where they can be successful governors and leaders of our organizations, we are rewarded in countless ways for our efforts. Board members are our most valuable volunteers and deserve to be treated as such.
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