1-On-1 With Connor Finnigan: Managing a Board of Forty

Organizational Management January 07, 2015

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

The 1-On-1 Interview Series is a special feature on the WildApricot Blog in which we interview standout callers from our Small Membership Advisory Community.

For our fifth 1-On-1 session, we spoke with Connor Finnigan from the Young Men’s Business League in Austin, Texas. Connor is an active board member who has helped the YMBL develop their website. This post offers just some of the highlights of our interview with Connor.

WildApricot: Connor, could you tell us a little more about the Young Men’s Business League? How is it organized, staffed and run?

Connor Finnigan: The YMBL was founded over 100 years ago and our core purpose is to connect young professionals to foster leadership opportunities for our members and to serve our charitable benefactor, the Austin Sunshine Camps, an amazing program that serves over 850 kids a year at no cost to them.

We host events throughout the year including the Silicon Labs Sunshine Run, the Austin Under 40 Awards Gala, an annual golf tournament, the Texas Craft Brewers Festival, an Alumni Legacy Bash, numerous parties, lunches and suppers with guest speakers, as well as a number of member-only events.

At the moment we have around 200 members, hundreds of alumni that are still involved as well, and a volunteer Board of Directors of around 40. We also have an excellent camp staff of eight to ten as well as camp counselors that we bring on seasonally for our summer camp sessions.

That’s a lot of Board members! Is it a really active Board with everyone involved?

Very much so. Everyone that’s on the Board is very active in the organization and found their way onto the Board through tremendous service, volunteership and being really active and enthusiastic about the YMBL and its mission to serve the Austin Sunshine Camps.

Your role there is Chair of Websites and Technology. What does that mean?

I manage and maintain our various websites – from the upkeep and maintenance and updating content on the site, to matters pertaining to the hosting of other sites and configurations. Recently I oversaw all aspects of the design, development, migration and launch of our new League website, which is built on the WildApricot platform. Previously I served as Chair of Corporate Fundraising for two years and then next year I’ll be serving as VP of Communications.

Your entire board right now is 40 people. Do those people by and large stay the same or is there a lot of turnover?

There is a lot of continuity, thankfully, and we find that for some roles it’s not uncommon for a person to take it on for two years, or three years in some cases. But it’s also not uncommon for someone to move around to different areas of the Board. For example, when I first joined the YMBL Board I was in a marketing capacity on the Communications Committee, and then I moved to overseeing the website. And then after, I was Chair of Corporate Fundraising, and now I’m back in the website role.

And so that’s just one example, and it’s not uncommon for our Board members to move throughout the Board. And it’s nice in that they’re familiar with how everything compliments one another, how ultimately we all work together for a common cause of success for the league and the camp.

Board planning processes

During the monthly meetings how do you decide on priorities as a Board?

There are side meetings leading up to the monthly Board meetings, where we prioritize what’s going on in the organization and what items to focus on. There are recent agenda items that we discuss and also, more routine procedural housekeeping items where we make sure everybody’s on the same page so that we know what’s coming up and determine where we can help each other.

We go over a treasury report and the event calendar for the coming months. We also have updates from each of the VPs  – and incidentally, the way our Board is structured it’s divided up into teams including special events, camp programs, facilities, alumni, communications, and membership.

Board structure

I’m assuming your Board has already held some kind of meeting on your plans for 2015. So why don’t you go into exactly how you structure that?

Sure, absolutely. Each year we have a president of the YMBL Board (this year’s president is Yann Curtis). We have also already determined the next year’s Board president, and that gentleman will serve as the president-elect of the current year. In terms of how the Board is selected and structured – the president-elect of the current year selects VPs for each of the committees, and then works with those VPs to set the stage for what the coming year has in store for the organization and to define goals, areas of strategy that we should be focusing on.

From there, each VP then seeks out members for their particular committee. For example, for my Communications Committee next year, there’s a Chair of Speakers. This Chair will focus on the lunches and suppers that we host where we have guest speakers. They will also help in finding the guest speakers, securing those dates, and then promoting those speaker events. Also on the Communications Committee, we have a Chair of Internal Communications who focuses on email and social marketing.

Every year in December we have an annual Board retreat where the incoming Board gets together for a day and we have a day-long meeting. We go through the coming year’s plans and “get on the same page”. But it’s not all business either. It’s about fellowship and friendship and getting to know people and reconnecting with old friends, and making new friends. We make a retreat of it and have a bunch of fun. Sometimes we’ll go see a concert or something. It’s a great way to kick off the year for the YMBL Board.

How would major changes get approved by the board?

Well it would typically start in a smaller conversation, possibly just within a committee. For example, the Fundraising Committee might have an idea. After some proper vetting and considering any number of different advantages, disadvantages, unexpected turns of events, and a lot of due diligence in a potentially big change. That would then be shared – in just a conversational sense – most likely with the Board president, possibly the Board treasurer, since fundraising is so obviously tied to our finances.

And then depending on the nature of the change in question, there would possibly also be consultation with the YMBL secretary, who is a legal professional. Based on the collective feedback of what’s being proposed, depending on the nature of it, it could be something that doesn’t require a Board vote. If ”green-lighted” by all those other parties, then it would come before the Board. At the very minimum, the new idea would be presented and shared with the Board and there would be discussions. There would be questions. There in some cases could be push-back.

“That’s what’s great about … a Board of Directors … you have all these different perspectives ... knowledge and expertise”

What happens when there’s push-back?

When there’s push-back we talk about it. We hear the person out who’s raising the concern, and sometimes it’s a very good concern that hadn’t been considered, possibly grounds for scrapping the idea altogether. That’s what’s great about having a panel, a Board of Directors, and having things presented before a group. You have all these different perspectives and you have folks drawing from their own base of knowledge, expertise, and instincts there are great observations made. But you know, if there is push-back then we talk about it and we might scrap the idea based on some very legitimate push-back.

“Important evolution of our website”

In closing, do you want to share some best practices that you’ve noticed either relating to the website or the Board?

Sure, I did want to share a little about the evolution of our website and how we’re in such a great place these days. When I joined originally in 2007, our website consisted of a handful of static HTML pages with a few links to register for events. It was cumbersome to update. It didn’t look very good.  We’re still around today, so I guess it got us places, but it left a lot to be desired.

So about a year ago we decided that it was time for a new direction and we had a very lengthy outline of the different abilities we would like to have under the new site, and we went out looking for a team to build it. We wound up awarding the job to an independent developer whose idea was to build the site on WordPress using some different plug-ins. But once we got started, it turned out we weren’t going to come close to what we wanted. And fortunately our incoming President, Dan Price suggested that I take a look at WildApricot and it covered all our bases.

All those “nice to haves” that we’d been talking about for years, or just having an application tracking system that was robust, and easy for people to use, that had automated messaging and reminders built into it and the ability for auto renewals, and a robust event sign-up system. All these abilities we’ve wanted for such a long time – we found with WildApricot. In addition to the numerous abilities it has on just a content management front.

Going to back to continuity on the Board, you know one of our big goals in the development of the new site was that we have something that we could easily pass off to the next generation of our Board and they be able to quickly pick it up and be able to maintain and we have that now through the WildApricot site.

“Our biggest strengths – passion and enthusiasm”

Closing thoughts?

To your original questions, you had asked what our biggest strength is and I would say it’s passion. We have a lot of enthusiasm for the YMBL, its history, and its traditions, and what it stands for. And what it stands for is helping others not only members but the community and the kids that we serve through the Austin Sunshine Camps.

We’d like to thank Connor for sharing details about his experience as a volunteer leader at Young Men’s Business League in Austin, Texas.

Full audio recording

This post offered just some of the highlights from our one-hour interview with Connor Finnigan. If you’d like to listen to the full 1-On-1 interview, you can listen to it via our SoundCloud stream here:

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