Volunteer Boards – Yeah! Or eeeek?

I work with a lot of organizations with a volunteer board of directors.  Volunteers can be an asset and a liability to any organization.  When the role of the volunteer is clearly defined and followed, the volunteer has a better chance of enhancing the organization.  If the roles aren’t clearly defined or a volunteer isn’t following their role, the organization can suffer greatly.

These tips are for anyone who is or wants to be a great volunteer board member.

Tip 1:  Read.  Read all the material you can regarding the organization.  This includes by-laws, the past year’s board minutes, financial statements, auditor’s reports, press releases, etc.  A well informed board member will enhance meetings and discussions.

Tip 2:  Prepare.  Come prepared for each meeting.  This includes reading the board packets and materials.  Give the executive director or CEO a head’s up on questions you might have so everyone can be prepared.  “Gotcha questions” only serve to make to questioner look ridiculous.

Tip 3:  Term limits.  The organization you’re involved with may or may not have formal term limits.  Limit your time serving on the board.  Give someone else a chance to be of service.  Planned turnover on the board is healthy and can revitalize decision making.

Tip 4:  Self evaluation.  Volunteer boards are often hesitant to say anything critical about their fellow board members – they are volunteering, how can we say he’s doing a bad job?  Having a formal process of evaluating each other and having paid management evaluate board members can point out how the board and individual members can be more effective.

Tip 5:  Your role.  Understand the board’s primary responsibility is to represent their constituents – who the organization serves.  Board members provide oversight, direction and guidance to management.  Let management run the organization.  I’ve seen organizations destroyed because board members start running the organization themselves.

Tip 6:  Respect.  When the board has made a decision, support that decision or get off the board.  Respect that management is always doing the best they can.  You may focus on the organization once or twice a month.  Management has a daily focus.  Honor that not all your “great ideas” will be embraced or implemented in the time frame you would like, if at all.

Tip 7:  Social.  You may be friendly with your fellow board members.  Be careful not to put your social eggs in the board basket.  Having very close friends as fellow board members can cause conflicts and a lack of perceived independence.

What else makes up a great board of directors?  Have I left something out?  What has been your experience serving on Volunteer boards?  Leave your comments below.

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