Have you ever found yourself in the middle of this cycle?
- We are a small, poor local League. No one good will want to sit on our board. So we will take who we can get.
- Once those people are on the board, we can’t demand much of them, because they are just volunteers. We can’t ask them for a letter of commitment, for example, or require that they be at meetings, because they are busy people. And we certainly would never demand that they read their board materials and be prepared before meetings!
- We are having board problems. Many board members don’t show up for meetings. When they do show up, they are not prepared. They have nothing to add except criticize.
- We’re losing a lot of our board members. Sometimes we can’t even get a quorum. Where can we recruit that we can get good board members this time?
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone, and there is a solution. It is not an easy solution, but it's rewarding. It includes 2 big steps:
- The board must relearn what it means to be a board and relearn what their job is within that role.
- They must institute a strong recruitment and orientation process, replacing the "woe is me" approach with an approach that will strengthen their League’s ability to do great things.
What it Means to Be a Board
The board is at the top of your League chart. They are ultimately responsible and accountable for everything the League does and doesn't do. They are responsible for providing benefit to the community. They are responsible for determining what acceptable and/or unacceptable behavior in League is. They are responsible for ensuring that there are adequate funds to provide that benefit to the community. In all these areas and more, the ultimate buck stops with the board.
There is no more important position in the League than to sit on the board. We aren't used to thinking of boards like that, but look at the top of that League chart. Look at the bylaws. Look at our state's law-- in the eyes of the state the local League IS the board. The board is the permanence of the League-- the enduring part.
Ironically, boards have spent so much time coddling their boards with words like “they’re just volunteers, we can’t ask them to do that,” that we have failed to realize a critical error in that thinking: A board that is doing its job well is more likely to be excited about that job. And a board that is jazzed about the job is the best recruiting tool of all!
And so we need to have a process for finding those board members who want to do this job. We need a process that allows the best candidates to surface, rather than resigning ourselves to taking what we can get. A recruitment process should mirror the processes we are so used to with employees. First we determine what qualities we are seeking. We create a job description. We advertise the position, use word of mouth, and see if there are already good candidates in our midst. We look for a pool of people as applicants, not just accepting the first one who says “yes.” We have them fill out applications. We interview prospects. We check their references.
These are all the things we do when hiring employees. These are also the things a good League does to recruit its board.
And then, last but certainly not least, we train them. And in strong League, that training is ongoing, just as it is in the corporate world.
Board members should learn all they can about the League itself. They should have ongoing training about their job as board member. And they must be trained to understand the financials, as so many of their decisions will have something to do with money.
The End Result
The board is the least understood and most important function in the whole League. If we look at our boards from this position of strength, recruitment is no longer a chore, but an opportunity. Board meetings are no longer an hour of dread, but a time for moving the League forward.
And that’s the blessing of a board that understands its role of ultimate accountability. They can make the difference between a League that is always trying to make it from day to day, vs. a League that soars.