July is a time when some professional association boards pass the torch and form a new group to brainstorm the coming year’s programs and activities. It also can be an opportunity to reflect on one’s role with a board or ongoing interest in future opportunities. Some people love being on boards, others burn out after a year or two. Having rolled off of three boards in the last three months, I can say they were great experiences, but I was not in a place where I could embrace the the three-year track necessary for a chapter presidency.
As I bid farewell to my board involvement for now, below are my six cents toward attempting to maximize board involvement if you are researching an opportunity, about to sign on as a novice or trying to reinvigorate your passion and commitment for another run:
I. Identifying Board Opportunities ~ If you haven’t been involved with a board and are interested in some fashion, it starts with maintaining a regular presence at an organization that appeals to you. If you are already a member, it helps to volunteer at the events or be a part of committee to help gauge your interest and capacity level and assess whether you want to take on a larger role. This baseline involvement helps you garner support from existing leadership and a potential nomination when the next slate is being formed and there is attrition that frees up vacancies each term. But don’t be shy, go ahead and nominate yourself if the passion is there, and that will make it happen most of the time.
II. Aim for Exemplary Attendance ~ If you can’t be there in person for the monthly board meetings at least 75 percent of the time, do your colleagues a favor and find a replacement and resign in amicable fashion. Dialing in on the teleconference “squid” from the comfortable confines of your office desk or couch at home won’t suffice. I did it a couple of times due to a conflict with a standing supervisor meeting at work and felt a little out of the loop even though the effort was there.
III. Enter With the Energizer Effort ~ This mainly applies to new board members, but everyone can take pride in coming to the table each year with new ideas for a creative spin to an existing program or ways to enhance a long-time event or communication method. Members who don’t opt for board involvement often get jaded or cast disparaging remarks when they feel the activities have grown stagnant, redundant or routine. Consider experimenting with a new social endeavor or consider implementing a new kind of editorial content in your newsletters, emails or flyers. It’s always interesting at a new board retreat when you develop a list of “want to dos” but in reality it is difficult to roll them out. Just try for one or two new concepts for a new year to create some buzz among new and longstanding members.
IV. Pause for Prompt Preparation ~ Do yourself and your fellow board members a favor and at least peruse the minutes, agenda and supplemental materials packet 24 hours prior to the next meeting. If you aren’t receiving said attachments with a sufficient amount of advance notice, demand it in a cordial way from the secretary. There are two things I generally scan for in each monthly board packet: what were the action items and where does my name show up in terms of my responsibilities and deliverables. Searching the PDF for these key terms can certainly expedite your preparation in a pinch of time.
V. Aspire for Ambassadorship ~ Do your best to at least make a cameo appearance at 50 percent of the programs or events. This should be especially adhered to if you are only having one function a month. As a board member, you are an ambassador and advocate for the chapter and the national organization and you should be a promoter and protector of the accompanying virtues, benefits and reputation of the association.
VI. Watch for the Engagement Disconnect ~ An unavoidable aspect of the dynamics of bringing a new board together is that the working and social relationships that may ensue are often erratic and nebulous. Situations may arise in which you never really “get to know” or “work closely” with some colleagues (despite what appears to be initial energy and enthusiasm at the term outset) because you only see them for a monthly one-hour meeting. Furthermore, personal reasons can cause staggered absences among members missing meetings or rarely attending events.
This disconnect with board functionality efficiency and interpersonal communications can arise when you go in with an open mind and eager perspective upon meeting new colleagues at the start of a term. However, before you realize it, a year has passed and you never really became familiar with some colleagues or others are burned out or termed out and go their separate ways through natural attrition and succession patterns. The reasons for the disconnect that often emerge in the course of a year are all too familiar — everyone is busy with careers, personal lives and other social, philanthropic or civic obligations. Even when full attendance is rare or fluctuates, members of the board can still maximize their participation by focusing on their individual contributions and supporting others while broadening their skills in other areas.