September 25, 2017
 
Developing Yourself as a Board Member

By Kay Sprinkel Grace

Each board is different. That means you have an opportunity with each organization to evolve further, or in different ways, as a board member.

You were recruited for what you’d bring to the board—expertise, connections, representation from new constituencies, previous experience—but part of being the ultimate board member is to use these reasons as a starting point for building your board service.
  • At your own board meeting, insist not only on “mission moments,” but request occasional presentations by experts in governance, planning, endowment management, and financial reporting for nonprofits.

  • Keep yourself invigorated by getting close to the program, by learning the stories, and being able to describe the impact of your organization. Look for opportunities to tell these stories at churches, service clubs, and other organizations as well as at the gym, on the golf course or at work.

  • Within your own community, connect with board members of other organizations and look for collaborative opportunities for boards to come together and discuss community, not just organizational issues.
Increased knowledge about the organization, and confidence in your role as a board member, will enhance your ability to be an advocate. In turn, this advocacy will increase your pride and help you become the passionate pragmatist your organization wants you to be.

The Purpose of Board Meetings

The purpose of board meetings is twofold. One the one hand, and as you would expect, you attend to review financial reports, discuss new policy recommendations, hear the CEO’s report of recent activities, and act upon committee recommendations.

But those agenda items are also the framework for something equally important: the creative interaction of the board itself. Board meetings that fulfill the true purpose do the following:
  • Promote a sense of teamwork.
  • Reinforce the shared vision.
  • Afford time to recount stories and successes.
  • Connect board members with the work of the staff.
  • Offer stimulation for ideas.
  • Provide opportunities for social interaction, and,
  • Reinforce the overall sense of the mission and its importance in the community.
That’s a big assignment. But if you’ve ever attended such a meeting, you know the feeling of exhilaration. The air practically crackles.

Unfortunately, you’re probably all too familiar with a different scenario—board meetings characterized by dissent, domination by a few, and general disorganization.

While even these meetings may eventually cover the agenda items, the other key component, bonding as a group, will be missing. Without that sense of group commitment, individual commitments often falter.

Be prepared, be focused, be there. And being there doesn’t simply mean occupying a chair. Turn off the cell phone. Park thoughts of work outside with your car. Ask questions, participate in discussions, help smooth dissent, and be a problem solver.

Bored or Board?

In large measure, the quality and spirit of board meetings is up to you. What you ask for in terms of content and quality, how you participate and prepare, and the ay in which you follow up on decisions all affect the productivity and enjoyment of board meetings.

Here are some key points to keep in mind:
  • Come prepared. When you’re mailed a board packet, read it beforehand, rather than page through it during the material minutes before the meeting.
  • Come on time and stay through the whole meeting. Staggered attendance is disruptive to a board decision-making. It isn’t a good idea to have a “rolling quorum,” though some board meetings seem to operate on that basis.
  • Expect an agenda, and expect it to be followed. If it isn’t, ask why.
  • If discussions drag on or become contentious without resolution, ask the question.
  • If you can’t change the tempo or tenor of the meeting, work with leadership before the next meeting to improve the situation.
One good way to reduce the “bored” aspect of meeting is to work towards an issues, rather than a “show and tell” focus.

Rather than listening to report after report (which you could easily read at home anyway), emphasize “big picture” discussions, those centering on the internal and external influences facing your organization. The change of pace is energizing.

Finally, remember the “mission moment” – something presented at the meeting that will excite you, inspire you, and leave you with a story to tell when you’re in your ambassadorial or fundraising role.

Excepted from The Ultimate Board Member's Book by Kay Sprinkel Grace, available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.

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