By Charles Hall, ASG CEO and Founder, Account Executive
So you have just been elected to the governance board of your state, national or international association. For many years you admired those folks that were introduced as members of the Board at the annual meeting as leaders of the association. You wondered if you would ever reach that level of organizational leadership. Now you have been elected to the board and wonder – so what do I do now? You probably have a real sense of pride in now being recognized as one of the leaders, but you also have a sense of anxiety as to how to measure up and lead the association well.
What happens now is whatever you make it.
When I was in college many, many years ago I spent my summers as a 4-H Camp counselor overseeing and herding hundreds of young boys and girls during their five day experience at our camp. Each counselor had a cabin of 10-15 kids that they visited before lights out to tell a story and get the kids charged up for the week (which did not take much charging).
Each Monday night, I told my guys the story of the young boy that wanted to trick the wise old man in their town. The young boy walked up to the old man and said, “Old man, I have a little bird in my hand. If you are so wise, tell me, is it dead or is it alive?” The old man thought for a minute and said – it is whatever you make it! For the old man knew if he said the bird was alive the young lad could squeeze his hands together and kill the bird – and if he said it was dead he would open his hand and the bird would fly away – so he wisely said – it is whatever you make it.
Your service as a board member to your organization will be whatever you make it. Let me relate my experiences on both sides of the Board table – as association staff and as volunteer leaders. As the current Executive Director of four ASG client organizations with more than 35 years of providing staff support, I have a lot of experience working with Boards of Directors. I just recently completed eight years of service to our national association management company trade association, AMCI, including three years as a Director, four years on the executive committee and one year as Chairman of the Board.
Here are some helpful hints from my experience to make your Board service a positive and productive experience for you and your fellow association members. Take on all of these character traits – and I can promise you’ll have a great experience.
1. Be Prepared.
Come to board meetings and committee meetings prepared for the discussion. Read and review the information sent out ahead. One of the most frustrating things that happens is when Board members that have not read the advance materials ask questions during the meeting that was covered in those materials. At ASG we encourage our Directors to ask us questions in advance of the meeting so we can be sure to have the answer to the question by the time for the Board. (P.S. – being on time is a part of being prepared also)
Serving in volunteer leadership roles and in various staff positions can sometimes be very difficult. I know from experience, just a few words like – ‘good job’, ‘thanks for what you do’, ‘we had a great meeting’, etc. can go a long way to encourage an individual to keep at it.
Be supportive of the officers, the Committee Chairs and the staff. Once the Board has made a decision whether you agreed with it or not……it is a Board decision so you need to support it. The place for opposing views and descending options is in the Board Room – not around the bar or at a membership meeting.
One of your key duties as a Board member is your fiduciary responsibility to the well-being of your association. If you have questions about a budget report, committee action, Board policy it is your responsibility to ask. This can be done in private with the Board Chair or Executive Director if it is a sensitive issue. But don’t hesitate to ask a question – you are representing the members, stakeholders or donors in your Board service to the organization.
So as you look at your service to your organization I hope you take these individual traits – to be prepared, to encourage, to support, and to test your association – and be the B.E.S.T. volunteer leader you can be. Remember your service to your organization is going to be whatever you make it.