Make sure your new board member really is on board
SERVING on the board of a nonprofit organization in Hawaii is an honor and a responsibility. However, the responsibility that comes with serving on the board should not be overwhelming.
Once a board member is selected, he or she should be brought up to speed as quickly as possible to be able to make a meaningful contribution.
Organizations should offer a formal orientation program for new board members. Such a program can familiarize new board members with how the board functions, including concepts such as management duties versus board duties, board committees, and board functions.
Ideally, the organization should make available to all board members a "board orientation book". Such a book could contain the organization's articles of incorporation, bylaws and any amendments, a brief history of the organization, a statement of the organization's mission and services, and the organization's strategic plan. A board member should also be provided with a contact sheet listing all the board members, their addresses and phone numbers, a list of key executives of the organization, and a calendar of all board meetings with dates, times and locations for the coming year.
YOUR role as a board member includes certain responsibilities that are essential to success:
» Attendance: You should attend all board and committee meetings, if possible. The skills you bring to the table do not matter if you are not present. Board members who repeatedly miss meetings should be candidates for removal. Their absence can drain the morale of other board members and, ultimately, the organization.
Be prepared and informed - In preparation for each meeting, read the material sent to you by the committee or board chair and by the staff. Come prepared to ask questions and make comments. It is also helpful to stay informed of trends and developments in the type of work that the organization performs so that you can bring a broader perspective. In addition, board members need to stay abreast of good governance practices as they evolve.
» Join a committee: Most of the board's work should be done by its committees. Join a committee to assist in carrying out the organization's work. Such a practice allows individual board members to become knowledgeable in key areas of the board's work and also reduces the amount of time that the board needs to spend on any one issue or set of issues.
» Speak your mind and ask hard questions: Some organizations have suffered because board members were more concerned about appearances than in discussing difficult or challenging issues facing the organization. As a board member, you have a primary responsibility for protecting the good name of the organization and assuring that the organization's staff and money are being used consistent with good practices.
» Represent the external world to the organization and the organization to the external world: Board members advocate on behalf of the organization and help raise awareness of the organization's mission. Another equally important role of a board member is to be sensitive to the environment in which the organization operates, and give the organization's staff important feedback about how policies, plans and programs need to change in response to a changing environment.
As you can see, serving on the board of a not-for-profit organization in Hawaii requires commitment, but it provides you an opportunity to contribute your talent, expertise, and dedication to a worthy cause.
Maile Wai is an assurance manager in the Honolulu office of Grant Thornton LLP. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org