So you’ve established your board and made sure they know their stuff – the legal and financial duties the work involves, the training they’ve had or will be getting, the code of conduct they’re expected to uphold etc. etc. (for more on this, see my last post). But what do effective boards actually do? Here are some pointers. Your board should:
- Concentrate on the mission
This list is by no means exhaustive (nor is it necessarily in order of priority), but this one is absolutely essential. Boards should, as James E. Orlikoff writes, “single – mindedly steer the association toward the accomplishment of its mission.” Board members should have a clear understanding of what that mission is. If the organization doesn’t have a clear mission, then it’s the board’s job to formulate one and make sure they stick to it.
- Act as an agent of change
Boards used to be able to get away with trundling along behind the scenes, acting as occasional overseers of the organization’s work. This is no good. What you want is a board that leads the way because times change whether we like it or not. Instead of resisting change or being steamrollered by it, an effective board embraces the concept of change and leads the development of the organization so it can maintain its competitive edge.
- Build an effective support structure
For a board to operate efficiently it needs the right support, usually from a number of committees and taskforces. The board is responsible for setting these up, choosing the right people to sit on them and setting their strategic directions. There is a distinction to be made here between committees (which are long-standing) and task forces (which dissolve after a task is complete). Committees are responsible for the business of the board and task forces are responsible for the business of the association. A good association management company (hint, hint!) can help you set up this structure to get maximum value for your association. Done right, the information or market intelligence that these committees and task forces produce will increase efficiency and feed seamlessly into the work of the board and the association respectively.
- Maintain relationships with chapters
Most national associations will have chapters in the different regions of the country in which they operate. It’s one of the board’s jobs to develop chapters with a clear purpose, maintain a two-way system of open communication, provide training and development for new and existing programs, and invite involvement from chapters whenever possible.
- Provide accountability
The buck stops with the board. This is the body that oversees the effective use of resources, acts as the last resort for complaints, answers inquiries from the media, and ensures that the organization is transparent.
- Communicate with members
If the board is responsible for driving the strategic direction of an organization, it follows that it should also be responsible for communicating its work to the organization’s members. In short, people need to know what the board is up to. They should receive that information in a timely manner, through a variety of appropriate channels.
- Hold its own members accountable
It’s rare that boards actually expel one of their members, but they should at least be held to some pre-agreed standards. This should include not just showing up to a certain number of meetings, but also providing thoughtful input, carefully reading pre-meeting materials and supporting board policies.