Demystifying the Board of Directors

Things to consider before committing to a board

“I am thinking about joining a board…what do you think?”

An immediate reaction to this question could be, “go for it! What do you have to lose?” And although this might be true in some cases, it is important do some research before committing your time, energy and passion to a board.

After a post was made on the AWN facebook page looking for advice on joining a board, I decided to reach out to a professional to gain some insights that hopefully helps our network when weighing the options of joining a board.

Having done some work in the past with Strive! – a consulting organization that helps to build and establish purpose-driven boards and leadership teams – I got connected with Mary Lynn McPherson, a Strive Senior Consultant, with previous work experience at the Royal Bank, as the banks first female agrologist!

She stressed, “First and foremost board work is about service… to a cause… to an organization… most board positions are volunteer (not paid), and therefore it is important to be passionate about the cause.”

Passion… passion for farming, passion a feeding the world, passion to support women, whatever your passion is, it is important to be involved in a board that shares your passion in order to help the cause move forward and inspire change! Okay great, so you have passion – now what? Here are some points

Mary Lynn made that will make you critically think before jumping in:

  1. Board work is about team work – and it is likely one of the most challenging teams in that this board of peers is expected to arrive at a ‘one voice’ message for delivery to its one staff/group… It is important to be diplomatic, kind, courageous, and willing to ask tough questions.
  2. Board work carries with it fiduciary (stewardship) responsibilities – so it is important to understand financial reports, be prepared to accept a certain level of financial responsibility and put/ensure appropriate financial risk mechanisms are in place.  So asking for a copy of the financial statements and asking questions about the financial stability of the organization in advance of joining on a board is a smart move!
  3. Board work can be very rewarding – especially if you are on a board that is a ‘fit’ for your time and the type of volunteering you like to do.  For instance, if you prefer thinking strategically and weighing big picture risk and reward options, a governing board might be a good fit.
  4. Alternatively, if you like to roll up your sleeves and get involved in making things happen, a working board might suit you better.
  5. Board work can be time consuming. It is important to understand the stage in which the board is in. Is the board you are looking to join well established or is it just starting off? Typically if a board is just starting off you are going to experience some growing pains and therefore require more input and time. Before joining it is important to ask questions to understand commitment level so you do not over commit yourself.

Although these points may seem like common sense after reading it over, a lot of people do not take the time to consider the impacts of sitting on a board- you need to research and ask questions!

Still interested in serving on a board? Before you fully commit I would suggest asking to attend a board meeting in advance of signing up. This will give you an opportunity to see firsthand how the board runs, and more importantly if the board culture is a fit for you. Just like when interviewing for a new job, it is important to get a sense of the people you will be working with and if they will mesh well with you. Feeling comfortable enough to express your opinions and share your ideas is critical to both the board’s success and your fulfillment as a volunteer.

Having had the opportunity to serve on two boards over the last four years (CAMA & AWN), I personally have had very rewarding experiences. Surrounding myself with leaders and passionate individuals has inspired me to get more involved in my community and take on new career opportunities. I would highly recommend getting involved in a board that aligns with your goals and passions, but be sure to research and be prepared for the role.

Best of luck AWN and I hope these insights help you in your decision making process!

  • Christina Couture
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