How Do You Get A Volunteer Board to Perform its Best?
Whether you are a volunteer leader of an association or an association staff member, its critical that you are doing everything you can to help your Board of Directors perform at its best. Hopefully the reason is obvious – if a Board is performing at its best, the association it is leading should achieve its mission.
Traditionally there are many avenues pursued to help Board’s achieve “greatness”. There is Board orientation, Board training, rules of conduct, understanding of roles and responsibilities and more.
I read an article on this subject in Association’s Now recently that was very interesting. The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) has conducted a three year long study into successful associations and, in particular, what the Board’s of successful associations are doing. The findings probably won’t surprise you but they will definitely give you something to think about.
1. Successful Boards are focused on strategic issues. Not just once every three years, but all the time.
2. Successful Boards are committed to training and hold themselves (as a Board and as Board members) accountable.
3. Successful Boards have solid Board member recruitment and mentoring efforts in place constantly, not just once a year.
The article goes on to recommend that associations form a Board Development Committee whose responsibility goes beyond future Board member recruitment. The committee can help to form the culture of the Board. Its members can mentor current and new Board members and can help to keep the Board focused on the things that will make it successful.
Do you have a Board Development Committee that goes beyond recruitment? Are there other qualities of a successful Board that you’ve witnessed? Share them here.
I am looking from the outside in. As a consultant I do a lot of board retreats and am leading a major governance transformation for a client. So, for what it’s worth, here’s my perspective.
Everyone knows that when you want to improve in a particular area, simply bringing your awareness to it is the first step to reaching a new level of performance.
So, for example, if you want to improve your diet, reading about new ways to eat, talking to friends who have had success, logging food choices… all of these can lead to immediate gains while they set the stage for larger, transformative actions. The real key is not in knowing what to do (everyone knows they should do these things), but in being motivated to do it and following through. That’s the real sign that a good change is on the way.
Similarly, when a board engages in self-reflection, reads about successes in other organizations, or engages in continuous improvement, they immediately begin to step up their game. And there’s a lot of good reading out there. For example the two books Road to Relevance and Race to Relevance are both packed with case studies. Not only can you quickly digest a good number of short synopses, but when you find one that seems like a good match or a relevant experience, you can call up the ED of the particular organization and learn a good deal more.
Again, it’s not knowing what to do as much as it is being motivated and following through. And group dynamics are a different game than individual motivation. I have had success by keeping an eye out for the volunteer leaders who take an interest in this kind of reflective development and nurturing it through conversation, sharing of pertinent articles and books, and facilitating interactions with other key players. It’s like fanning embers into flames, and it’s a worthy pursuit.
When you have an inspired ED and a volunteer board performing at its best, you have the best of all worlds: best for the members, the mission, and all the stakeholders. Definitely worth the investment.
Great points Seth. Thanks for commenting.
Execution is critical to all success – planning is important, knowing what to do is important. But if we don’t do it, we can’t succeed.
What’s that old adage – 80% of success is showing up?
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