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Think of your Board of Directors as an Adult Leadership Program
Charitable Nonprofits embody

When I was an Executive Director with the YMCAs, I had Program Directors who ran our programs – things like day camp, youth sports, teen leaders, etc. Other organizations probably have similar roles, people who run programs, services, do case management, etc. A couple of months ago I shared an article on effective board meetings. In it, I talked about how I think of the Board of Directors as an Adult Leadership program that the Executive Director leads. 

Our youth programs would teach kids things like teamwork, sportsmanship, and how to develop healthy relationships. Similarly, our Board of Directors helps adults to develop their presentation and collaboration skills, it teaches them how to problem solve and advocate for things that are important to them, and it gives them a connection to their community that they might not otherwise have. 

When we think about our boards in that light, it shifts how we think about the structure, functions and activities of the board. It also helps us shift from a one-way street to a two-way street. If we just think about the board as being there to serve our organization, it’s a one-way street – what can the organization get out of these people? When we consider our work with the board as a two-way street we start to think about how the work engages and develops the members of the board. 

In planning a youth development program, the director needs to consider these components: 

  • Objectives and Purpose
  • Target Audience
  • Program Structure and Activities 
  • Curriculum and Content
  • Resources and Materials
  • Staff and Volunteers
  • Budget and Funding
  • Outreach and Recruitment
  • Evaluation and Assessment
  • Safety and Risk Management 

Let’s look at each and see how these planning components can apply to running an Adult Leadership program, AKA the Board of Directors. 

  • Objectives and Purpose

    • Clarify what you want the organization to get out of the program AND what you want the participants to come away with. Will they experience skills development, personal growth, community engagement, network building, leadership skills, personal fulfillment, etc? 
  • Target Audience

    • Who and what does your organization need in order to advance the work on the cause? Think about the skills, passion, connections, characteristics, and demographics of the people you want on your board. If the people on your board do not possess the qualities that you need, how can you help them to level-up?
  • Program Structure and Activities 

    • What are you going to have your board members do? It’s not enough to just have them come to board meetings for a sit & get. Incorporate opportunities for every board member to speak and contribute. Think about engagement opportunities outside of board meetings; such as committees, task forces, program observations, community outreach, public appearances, and more. Ideas for engaging your volunteers at a higher level:
      • Provide experiential learning to help grow their knowledge of the cause
      • Give them research projects or reading to do and report back to the larger group
      • Have them interview experts in your industry and share their learnings 
      • Give them the opportunity to conduct mission moment interviews and share the impact the organization is having
      • Delegate the facilitation of a discussion topics to someone other than the board chair
      • Additionally: opening thoughts, timekeepers, and committee reports are all roles that volunteers can step into 
  • Curriculum and Content

    • The content of board work should tie back to the mission and strategies of the organization. By including volunteers in strategic planning and tying those plans back to the month-to-month work of the board, you actively engage your board in advancing the mission. In addition, consider the opportunities you are including for your volunteers to grow. You might include:
      • Formal or informal training on things like: board governance, community initiatives, leadership skills, industry trends, etc. 
      • Board mentoring
      • Presentation opportunities
      • Networking 
      • Mission education and connection
  • Resources and Materials

    • This involves ensuring that your volunteers have the information available to do their job as a board member effectively. That can include an onboarding process, access to historical information, agendas and reading materials distributed in advance, and staff or volunteer support.
  • Staff and Volunteers

    • In order to ensure that the adult leadership program is effective, it requires staff or volunteer monitoring. Often the Executive Director is the leader who ensures that the program runs according to design. A Board Development committee or a Board Governance committee can (and should) help with planning, executing, and evaluating the work of the board. 
  • Budget and Funding

    • Just like with any other program, potential expenses need to be considered. Do you need to rent space for meetings, provide meals or snacks, purchase name tags or shirts, host socials, etc? Meals or other refreshments can serve as a great strategy for bringing people together and providing informal networking. 
  • Outreach and Recruitment

    • I hardly ever talk to a nonprofit leader that doesn’t ask me how they can find and recruit good board members. It’s important to acknowledge the fact that a professional and highly productive board can be one of your best attraction and retention tools. When people are excited about serving on your board and they believe their time is being used valuably, they will want to get others involved. And, the opposite is true. If meetings are unproductive and poorly organized, they can repel prospective board members.
  • Evaluation and Assessment

    • Again, this is often led by the Executive Director, and it is great to enlist the Board Development committee with this process. Good questions for the group to discuss include:
      • How effective was our last meeting?
      • Did we engage all members?
      • Are volunteers actively contributing?
      • What can we do to make the next one better? 
      • Are there any “off-line” conversations that need to happen? 
      • Are we meeting our objectives in regards to adult leadership development? 
      • Are we moving the needle on the work of the board towards our strategic objectives? 
  • Safety and Risk Management 

    • Serving on a board is usually a fairly low risk program in terms of physical safety. Unlike providing swimming or camping programming! To make sure that your volunteers are protected, all agencies should carry Directors & Officers (D&O) insurance. Additionally, ensuring that you create a culture where it is safe for people to step outside their comfort zone is key to helping them grow. No one grows when they do not feel safe. 

There’s no question that our best volunteers are the ones who give their time and energy to our organization out of a passion and desire to give back. And that is still super important. But if we are only thinking about what we can get out of our board members, rather than what we can give them, we are missing an opportunity to further develop the adult leaders we interact with and who care about making our world a better place. 

Every nonprofit is different and has unique needs and challenges. Email me at Kim@Athena-CoCo.com, or schedule a Discovery Call if you would like to discuss your organization’s Adult Leadership Program. 

Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors, and helper of nonprofit leaders.
kim@athena-coco.com 

 

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