I will admit that serving (yes, serving not ‘sitting’) on a board is not for everyone, but it is a rewarding experience for anyone who wants to expand their professional skills, tackle important strategic problems in our community, and work on implementing good governance and risk mitigation controls.

Outside the boardroom – living the vision 24/7

It isn’t enough to show up for your monthly or quarterly 2-hour meetings every month. To be truly effective in your role, you must know the organization that you’re supporting and do the homework to be able to provide the strategic support they need.

Understanding the role of a board member:

1.      Safeguard assets: financial and reputation

One of the most important jobs of a board member is to examine and mitigate risk. This involves being aware of everything from internal cash flows to external forces that might threaten the organization’s ability to succeed in its mission, and then prioritize and mitigate those risks as required. As a board member, you need to make sure the Executive Director or CEO is presenting regular financial statements that give you an idea of the financial operations and is presenting the staff’s performance in a way that aligns to the board’s expectations of the organization.

2.      Strategic planning

A strategic planning process should be done by the board and the staff to set the short to long term goals for the organization. This process will take a look at the vision, mission, and values to make sure they are still relevant to the current operations. An internal and external scan will help highlight any gaps in the organization or any opportunities to leverage current strengths. Once you decide on a period of time (one-year, 3 years, 5 years), you can set objectives to achieve the strategic goals you’ve set. They should be SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time limited). Once a strategic plan is in place, ensure you’re referring back to it regularly to ensure its relevance and alignment to your current initiatives. 

3.      Evaluate ED/CEO performance

Annually the board should review the ED/CEO’s performance: how they are performing as it relates to the strategic plan, if there are any weakness that could be addressed with training. This will usually be done by a subcommittee of the board who will take their findings back to the board to approve the performance review. More regularly than annually, however, it’s important as a board member to take note of the ED’s performance. How are they managing staff? Are they executing on the vision and the initiatives that the board is suggesting? Do they represent the organization out in the community? Do they submit regular reports to the board? As a board member, you need to know the job description of an Executive Director and how it relates to your organization.

4.      Accountability to the membership

It’s important to ensure that all stakeholder interests are being looked after in discussions. Sometimes this means having a diverse board made up of members from the community, and other times it just means board members need to be proactive about understanding the needs of the membership.

The agenda package: do your homework

Board members need to show up to meetings understanding the materials in the agenda package. If you aren’t getting your materials early enough (one week in advance), reach out to your chair or whomever is responsible for distributing materials and ask for earlier distribution.

Read through your package 3 times: first time for review, second for deep understanding, and the third time to compile questions and discussion points. If you put in the work ahead of time, you will be ready to have the deep dive conversations in order to affect change.

Being ambassadors

Different boards have different requirements of board members. Some board members are required to donate and/or fund-raise on behalf of the organization. At the very least, you should be able to speak in public about the work the organization does and attend key events (AGMs, fundraising events, galas, etc.) 

Also, understand any skill gaps on the board and do proper board succession planning by recruiting based on need. If you meet people at networking events that would be a good fit, be prepared to talk about why you enjoy serving on the board and see if they’d be willing to submit an application.

Understand the organization

Part of Board Orientation should be educating board members on everything they need to know about the organization in order to be subject matter experts.

·        What is the mission, vision, and values of the organization?

·        Who does the organization support?

·        What is the competitive landscape?

·        Who are partners in the community?

·        What are the external risks and opportunities?

When you fully understand the organization you are supporting, you are able to fulfill your role effectively.

Originally published on LinkedIn.