The Balance of Board Attendance & Engagement

In the last year, I was invited to be a member of three Valley association boards. Prior to these selections, my primary non-work association affiliations centered around my alumni club and the Phoenix Irish Cultural Center. I was flattered to be considered and eager to be involved and contribute where I could with each respective appointment. I viewed it as a great networking forum, professional development avenue and continued branding exposure for my career as I had moved here five years ago knowing three people.

Regular Attendance

I have done my best to maximize my attendance at meetings (making 80-90% for each board), luncheons (70-80%) and social functions (50%) for each of the three associations. It can be taxing at times to fit it all in working 8 a.m.-6 a.m. (I have a flex day every other Monday; so it’s still a 40-hour work week schedule) and the fact that I am 20-25 miles southeast of where all meetings and functions are generally located. My bandwidth has been stretched lately, but weekends are for recharging to cover that, right?

As an aspiring journalist at Clarence High School in Western New York in the early ’90s, I once covered a Town Board meeting for the Metro Community News, and I always remembered my mentor, the staff news reporter, remarking that they were really “Town Bored” meetings. Clearly, he was jaded from covering scores of them, but it was funny at the time. For me, this has not been the case for local board meetings, as we really adhere to the agendas and set time limits given the demands on everyone’s schedules.

Engagement Disconnect?

The thing that has surprised me about board involvement this past year is that there are some board members that you never really “get to know” or “work with closely” because you may only see them for that monthly one-hour meeting; or in some cases rarely see them because of members missing alternating meetings.  That can be the “disconnect” with boards,  you go in meeting new colleagues at the start of a term and a year goes by quickly before you realize, I have never really gotten to know some of the other board members. I’m sure there are different dynamics at play with non-profit, executive and social organization boards, so I am not trying to cast generalizations or disparage anything or anyone. These are just my personal observation thus far.

The reasons for a so-called “disconnect” can be all too familiar – we are all busy with our full-time careers, personal lives and other social, philanthropic or civic obligations and full attendance is rare or at least fluctuates; members of the board come from an array of different professional sectors (but this is also one of the greatest merits of being on a board as you continue to learn from others with different skills and experiences to broaden your professional development); the Valley is so spread out, making it hard for those in opposite corners to mingle at the mixers.

Efficiency Through E-Comm

Our electronic communication and digital media era has certainly made things efficient and convenient as far as distributing board materials, promoting functions and even holding conference calls or email voting on organizational matters. This is where the lack of face-to-face quality time is really overcome, as you can get a feel for fellow board member’s personality, communication styles/preferences and specific areas of interest, expertise and responsibility to the board and general membership.

My basics for staying informed and being engaged are to read through all emails, monthly board packets and respond to all requests for information, action or voting. The night before each meeting, I will scan the previous month’s meeting to see where future action items can be addressed. I check each association web site and their accompanying social media sites a couple times a week to make sure I am apprised of all the upcoming events or educational offerings. With memberships that range from 120-300 and board sizes spanning 13-18 officers, you would be amazed at all of the ongoing activities and logistical details that can be compiled in 30 days time. I think it is important to be well informed and visible at functions to help recruit new members and encourage or steer existing members in the directions that may suit them.

Pursuing Board Positions

Perhaps you are wondering if my boards present any conflicts, and they really haven’t. As I indicated earlier, I have been able to make them work without interfering with my job. If I have to come in early or stay late to finish projects due to a meeting or luncheon, I always make sure I do that. In full disclosure, I let each board president know about the ensuing other board appointment, and there were not concerns or reservations raised by any of them. I keep all of the information and procedures separate and attempt to bring value to each appointment in a different way. My role is different on each board so that helps keep things fresh and interesting; ranging from finance to marcomm newsletters to social media. I am very grateful to those past board members who nominated me for each appointment in the first place, and I continue appreciate the opportunities that emerge with each association gathering.

If you haven’t been involved with a formal board and are interested, or at least intrigued in some fashion to give you another project (if you can truly take on the time commitment, of course), I encourage you to be a regular presence at an organization that appeals to you. If you are already a member, it always helps to volunteer at the lunches or events or be a part of committee to help you gauge your enthusiasm or capacity to take on a larger role. This helps you garner the nominations when the next slate is being formed and there is attrition that frees up several vacancies each term. But don’t be shy, go ahead and nomination yourself if the passion is there, and that will make it happen most of the time.

When I reach a “burnout point”,  I will bow out gracefully so another colleague can step in and enjoy similar experiences of leadership, mentoring, networking and career-enhancing activities.  I have benefited greatly as a professional just in this last year and look forward to more opportunities to meet new Valley colleagues or share my interests or insights with other prospective or existing organization members.

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