Sunday, 15 January 2012

You can make a Contribution.Why not do it?

Governance of  an organisation  ( profit making  as well as non-profit) is generally done through its Board.I have had the opportunity of being a  Board member of many  such organisations from time to time .All of them have a Chairperson, a CEO , by whatever name called ,and  a number of Board members .I have observed that  in India , these Boards generally  exist more in name and form , and less in spirit .Most of these Boards practically work as centralised bodies, with Chairperson and the CEO  making  most of  the decisions .The other Board members are marginalised , and often rendered ineffective .To a large  extent , this  even applies to the Cabinet of different governments , elected district level local bodies ( urban and rural ) and non-profits..I have  been questioning myself whether there is a scope for ordinary  Board members to be effective ."The Ultimate Board Member's book" by Kay Sprinkel Grace  is a slim book of 112 pages which tells us how to be  effective as a  member of a non-profit Board.
        A Board member can be effective only if he (or she) endorses and shares the mission and values of the organisation .He should be prepared to commit time and resources to help the board achieve the mission and vision of the organisation.As a non-profit , he should do things which "ease human suffering or enhance human potential."Mission is why the organisation exists.The Board member should strive to remain connected with its mission.He should periodically undertake tours and hold meetings with people who have benefited from the organisation.This will keep him reminded of why he got involved in the first place.
He should  regularly attend the meetings of the board or of the board committees ,of which he is a member.He should make the organisation one of his top priorities.He should insist on observing the processes and not agree to adopt short cuts.He should not bypass or go around the CEO to staff persons. The Board and its members should govern and not micromanage.Micromanaging is an abuse of power.A board member should suggest and support good governance practices.He  should focus on substantive issues only.He should subvert mediocrity and not lower expectations from the Board .He should request occasional presentations on governance , plans and financial situation of the organisation .He should provide an environment in which difficult issues and conflicts can be raised and resolved.During the meetings , he should look for something that excites him , inspires him and leaves him  with a story to tell when he is in his ambassadorial or fund raising role.
                                   A Board member  of a non-profit should be able to be a good fund raiser for the organisation .As a Board member , he should himself support it financially.As Hank Rosso , founder of The Fund Raising School  used to say ,"You can't preach religion until you get religion".You can ask other donors to give funds , if you contribute funds yourself . He should play one or more of the three roles----asker, cultivator(relationship builder) and steward(Keeping the donor connected.). He should care for the donor as well as for the investment so that there is maximum impact from every gift.The organisation should be able to create an impact on the community , because people invest in success.
         He should develop the skills to read balance sheet and other financial statements.He should read carefully the bye-laws of the organisation, which outline the structure , rules and protocol.

He should  ask for a formal recognition program for outstanding volunteers.He should attend the meetings of national or regional associations , of which his organisation is apart.This gives him  a broader view and an enhanced sense of not being alone in the world.High performance is part content, part style and part dynamics."Dynamic' is what he creates with others to make his board "work'. For this , he needs to hold a yearly meeting with each board member separately .
In many ways , the book is simplistic.It does not tell what a board member should  do when the Chairperson has a centralised or autocratic  style of decision making.It presumes that the board member has a faith in the mission  and values of the organisation , and  that the organisation wants to make a meaningful contribution to the society by adhering to its values .In real life ,  organisations  often  are forced  to make compromises with their  values.

It took me about two hours to read this book  .While the book has been written  about  how to be an ultimate Board member , its suggestions and messages  will be helpful to any  role you occupy in a non-profit organisation .It shows us the way to make a contribution  to society effectively.That  makes it a really  very useful book .