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Tips for Managing Your Board Development and Your Expectations

Lori Halley 22 August 2011 0 comments

There’s been a number of thought-provoking posts and articles lately about Board development and effectiveness. And as organizations ramp up for fall and a new membership or fundraising cycle, ensuring volunteer leaders are prepared for the year’s challenges ahead must be high on the priority list. For small-staff or volunteer-driven organizations, the Board’s role is even more critical.

In a blog post earlier this summer, Rick Moyers (Chronicle of Philanthropy) noted that the “Daring to Lead 2011” report, produced by the Meyer Foundation and CompassPoint, found that only 20% of the executive directors surveyed reported being “very satisfied” with their boards, with 48% being only “somewhat satisfied.” In his post - Do we expect too much from boards? - Moyers reminds us that “board members are, after all, volunteers. Many serve with little or no training or orientation and have limited resources.”

Building productive relationships with your board

This is a hot button topic for Trish Hudson of the Melos Institute.  As a guest blogger for Wild Apricot, Trish has offered some valuable Tips for Building Productive Relationships With Your Leader Partner to our blog readers in the past. When I asked Trish to offer up some advice in the wake of the “Daring to Lead” survey, she offered the following thoughts on effective Board development and realistic expectations, she noted:  

Being an exec in any nonprofit is a tough job. Working with a volunteer team that constantly changes presents real challenges. What is remarkable about most volunteers, however, is their desire to be effective. Yet over the years, most of the focus is on asking volunteers to do less….expect less. We might just be pushing them away rather than tapping their potential…and giving them an enriched experience. People choose how they spend their time. The more we focus on leadership training and development, the more confident they become….and the more we can expect great things from our volunteer counterparts.”    

Trish and Jim Hudson have written an article for the Melos Institute entitled Leaders Aren’t Born They’re Trained,” which illustrates that establishing a serious leadership development initiative not only complements the planning process but also enables the organization to operate at a much more strategic level.”

Trish and the Melos Institute offered to share a couple of their articles and resources with our readers, including the “Strategic Board Development” article that offers  a Checklist for Planning an Effective Orientation -- see the resource links listed below. This article notes:

Members often report that board service is one of the most worthwhile experiences in their personal and professional lives. This is understandable considering no other position offers the opportunity to chart the course of a profession, trade or personal avocation. While most members possess a wide range of talents, skills, and expertise, they are often unaware of how unprepared they are to operate effectively in this unique environment. Board orientations address this challenge – if they are designed with the members’ needs in mind and focus on learning how to govern rather than to manage. 

Is board training the answer?

In his Acronym post last month, Train more or expect less? Joe Rominiecki also advocates for increased skills training for board members. Like Trish, he suggests that associations “have two options:

  • Accept the ineffectiveness of the board, and lower your expectations accordingly.
  • Train the board with the skills needed in order for it to meet your expectations."

It’s timely that the DC Bar Pro Bono Program has just launched an orientation manual - “Welcome to the Board of Directors”  - that explains the rights and responsibilities of board members under federal (U.S.) and D.C. law.  This helpful resource offers background material and an orientation for your new Board members to help strengthen the Board’s effectiveness. The manual discusses such topics as fiduciary responsibilities, financial oversight, risk management, strategic planning and evaluation and compensating staff.  You can download a copy of the document (see Resources below), and provide it to your incoming Board members as part of their orientation.

Managing your own and your board’s expectations

Trish says “it’s never too late to improve your Board’s performance with training. Their competence won’t change overnight…and you do need to take steps to reinforce what they learn….but their effectiveness will evolve over time if you make leadership development a priority.” If you believe, as she does, that “leaders are not born but are trained,” you are on the road to managing your own expectations and can develop training plans to ensure your Board members are on the same track so that they:

  • understand their role;
  • know what is expected of them;
  • and have the skills to perform this role. 

After all, you do share one all-important goal – the success of your organization and its mission!

We hope this post and the resources below are helpful in your board development planning. Be sure to share your board development tips or success stories in the comments below.


Melos Institute:

DC Bar Pro Bono Program:

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 22 August 2011 at 8:30 AM
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