by Joely Ross
I’ve had the privilege of participating in the Institute for Civic Leadership’s Young Emerging Leaders Program. This program is a two-and-a half-month training for young leaders who have committed to join a nonprofit board as part of their civic involvement. In this program, participants learn leadership skills, background on nonprofits, and responsibilities of nonprofit boards and board members. When I first began this program, my reasoning behind it was to be matched with a nonprofit board. Many boards look within for recommendations of who to invite to join the board when seats become open. Instead of waiting for someone to ask, what a great opportunity to be matched with a board that might be looking for me, but not even know me yet!
I have been pleasantly surprised through this experience to receive valuable training and preparation for my first board meeting. It’s been fascinating to me to think about how many board members have little training or preparation for their board experience. Most don’t know what to expect when they agree to take on this significant volunteer experience.
The part of the program that I gained the most from was the board observation project. Each participant in the program had the opportunity to observe one of the partner organization boards. This observation included a meeting with the Executive Director and/or Board Chair, observation of a board meeting, debrief of the meeting with the Executive Director of Board Chair, and presentation about the experience to the class. This was a valuable experience to me as I was able to see a board from the perspective of the Executive Director, observe the intricate workings of the board with an understanding of board structure, challenges, and goals, and then to debrief with a group of peer leaders about the experience. This neutral role as an observer gave me such a valuable experience to see some deep-rooted needs of the organization—needs which the Young Emerging Leader could have an extraordinary impact on!
I finished the Young Emerging Leaders Program with a few new insights as I enter my new board experience:
1. Make sure that the hours that you can actually contribute and the commitment that you make to the organization match up.
2. Board members can contribute one or more of the following to a board: Treasure, Time, or Talent. Know what you’re able to give to the board and understand that you may not be able to give all and that is ok. There may be only one of these areas that you excel in.
3. Ask questions and become an active participant of the board.
4. Know that boards have varying levels of participation in the workings of the organization. Some boards are very hands on, while others are decision makers. You will most likely have a preference of which type of board you’d like to serve on.
5. Follow your passion. When you have a passion for the work of the board, you will enjoy doing the work.
Joely Ross is an AmeriCorps Program Manager with Goodwill Industries of Northern New England. She is an AmeriCorps*VISTA Alum who lives in the greater Portland area with her husband and two daughters.