This article was written by Danielle Dyer for cues.org. To read the full version and access the March 2018 magazine please click here.
A 90-minute recipe for facilitating good governance
Board liaisons, “You’re not governing—but you are making sure governance can happen,” said Dottie Schindlinger at The Board Liaison Workshop, a new offering led by governance experts held in conjunction with CUES’ Directors Conference last December in Florida.
Schindlinger, VP/governance technology evangelist at BoardEffect (boardeffect.com), a board portal software company serving nonprofits including credit unions, kicked off the four-session workshop with “Best Practices for the Best Board Meetings – Ever.” She opened with a discussion of participants’ key job concerns: Meeting facilitation, onboarding, execution of strategy and peer support were high on the list.
“Meetings are really the place where the rubber hits the road,” said Schindlinger. “There is a direct connection between how well the board can [govern] and how well the meeting goes.”
But how can liaisons ensure board meetings go well when their duties are as varied as their job titles? (“How many people have a slash in their title?” asked Schindlinger. Hands raised around the room.)
According to the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities (agb.org), the role of a “board professional” is defined as “… Staff members who provide critical support, planning and coordination of important board functions.” Or, as Schindlinger summed up, “professional cat herder.”
“Part of your job is to keep everyone happy. … It’s kind of an impossible task,” she added.
The role can also look very different at different institutions. This was made apparent as participants created and categorized a high-level list of more than 25 duties as either support, planning or coordination.
Keeping in mind all of those responsibilities, the task of making board meetings run smoothly—let alone making them great—may seem overwhelming. So Schindlinger asked the group to break it down by recalling the best meeting they’d ever attended and why that meeting was so special.
“My voice could be heard. I was able to share my thoughts and ideas,” said one participant. People “came with an open mind,” added another.
Schindlinger agreed, providing this mission statement for a good board meeting, from governance consultant Nancy Axelrod’s book Governing for Growth: “In addition to oversight, boards need to provide insight, and, if possible, foresight.” And the way to arrive at good insight? Asking better questions, she said, not just providing answers.
“Could you imagine if in our orientation for new board members, we said, ‘Your job is to come in this room with the best questions?’” asked Schindlinger.
To allow for such questioning, directors should be both prepared and willing to stay on track. (“Rotate the time-keeper among board members—don’t make it just the chair’s job,” she suggested.)
Schindlinger shared a recipe for a great board meeting developed by Seattle-based nonprofit governance consultant Susan Howlett (susanhowlett.com). It takes just 90 minutes from welcome to conclusion:
- Community-building with food (5 minutes)
- Mission and inspiration (3 minutes)
- Consent agenda (2 minutes)
- Board education and training (20 minutes)
- Governing (60 minutes)—and the No. 1 item should be strategy discussion. Put routine stuff at the end, or handle it online outside the meeting, she said.
Discourse about recruiting and training the right directors to make great board meetings possible and tools for keeping members accountable energized attendees.
“Changing our board meeting structure is my top priority,” says Sheri Shannon, AVP/board relations at $323 million University of Illinois Community Credit Union (uiecu.org), Champaign, Ill., citing her key takeaways from the workshop. Additionally, “researching board assessment tools.”
She and fellow attendee Maritza Woodfaulk, executive administrator at $1.4 billion Pen Air Federal Credit Union (penair.org), Pensacola, Fla., agree that an important lesson is that the role of board liaison is vital to the success of credit unions.
“I’m going to get with my CEO and our board chair to make sure that they know we’re all in this together,” says Woodfaulk. “Each part is important to be successful and to move the credit union forward. I can be a great bridge for them to communicate.
“Don’t miss the next one!” Woodfaulk advises board liaisons that were unable to attend the inaugural workshop. “This is an opportunity to get to know others in our field and to collaborate and let them know they’re not in this alone.”
Danielle Dyer (email@example.com) is assistant editor at CUES, Madison, Wis.