Tips to help new board members be effective

By Gary Sliworsky
Ag rep, Emo

The recent municipal election has resulted in new council members in many cases.
As well, many agriculture organizations hold their annual meetings this time of year.
The following are five best practices for new board or committee members (the information is from Donald G. Evans, past president of the board of the Canadian Training Institute):
Whenever a new person volunteers to serve on a board or a committee, they are faced with the question: what do I do now?
New board or committee members often sit back and listen rather than actively contribute during their first few meetings. And I suppose that’s a natural human response to finding oneself in a new and somewhat uncomfortable territory.
There are five key elements or characteristics that, if adopted and developed by a new volunteer, can make them an effective asset to any organization they seek to serve rather quickly.
In other words, practising these five key elements can decrease your learning curve.
The first effective characteristic relates to being thoroughly prepared for each and every meeting.
Preparedness involves becoming familiar with the bylaws, policies, and structure of your organization. Knowing and understanding the values and mission, as well as the current strategic plan, will help you follow discussions and enable you to participate in meaningful discussions at board and committee meetings.
Being prepared also involves reading, prior to a meeting, all documentation (i.e., minutes, financial reports, proposals, etc.) that have been sent to you in advance.
Use this reading time to also construct or formulate any questions or suggestions you might have for items on the agenda.
This is a good time to remind yourself that there is no such thing as a foolish question, so if you have questions, ask them!
Being on time for meetings is another important characteristic of effective board and/or committee members. Punctual members are an asset to any board or committee that has limited time to deal with the issues and items before it.
It is important for another reason: the respect it shows fellow members and the seriousness with which you approach your responsibilities.
Planning and goal-setting is another function that characterizes the effective board or committee member. It is extremely important that you take responsibility for working collectively to shape the future of your organization.
Planning in this context involves affirming the basic values of the organization, defining its purpose, establishing measurable goals, setting clear, realistic objectives, developing action plans, and evaluating progress.
Board or committee members are responsible for setting the direction of the organization and determining the organization’s major issues, programs, and services.
Members will work to ensure the right personnel and appropriate resources are assigned to the programs and services that are high priority.
Promoting the organization is another key element in being an effective board member.
Those who hide their involvement on the board from public view do a disservice to the agency and do not provide the necessary linkages with wider constituents that could help the organization fulfill its mission.
Being on a board of a not-for-profit is not, nor should it be, membership in a secret organization.
Making the work of your organization known is part of an effective member’s job. It is a means of gaining support for the work of the organization.
The new member will be assisting in the maintenance of a credible and respectful image for the organization.
Being aware of, and being able to explain, the programs and services offered by the organization whose board or committee you serve on is the final key attribute possessed by an effective member.
Program awareness includes being clear about the purpose of the programs or services, and managing the human and physical resources necessary to achieve program goals.
It is the board’s job—and thus the member’s responsibility—to oversee the programs and services and, if necessary, to handle any major problems that might arise.
This part of the member’s job would be greatly enhanced by having clear policies in place and having an expectation of what reports that board will receive at its meetings.
A new member who wishes to become an effective board or committee member will seek to embrace and develop the art of being prepared and punctual by attending to planning, promoting, and programming for your organization.
Dates to remember
•Dec. 9– Meeting with Dan Ferguson, Ontario Cattlemen’s Association, 7 p.m., Emo Legion.

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