Below is an interview that I recently did with Roger Carr who is a great volunteer with the Arthritis Foundation in Virginia as a board member. Some of my past interviews have been mostly targeted towards general leadership, but this interview really narrows down to the leadership required as a board member for a nonprofit organization.
Enjoy. . . .
Q: What caused you to become a board member for the Arthritis Foundation?
A: My wife has been suffering from several forms of arthritis for years. One day I decided to do something about it so I called the Arthritis Foundation (http://www.Arthritis.org) and offered to help as a volunteer. Through my volunteer work, I learned firsthand about the impact the Arthritis Foundation continues to have on individuals and families affected by arthritis. I was ready to get involved in a new way when I was asked to consider becoming a board member of the Arthritis Foundation, Virginia Chapter.
Q: Do you believe a board member should have some type of personal experience or relationship with an organization in order to be a board member?
A: Not necessarily, but I would strongly encourage it. I do believe a board member must be passionate about the organization’s mission. This does not necessarily mean that the potential board member has to have a personal experience or relationship with an organization, but it does mean that there needs to be a passion for the cause. The organization and person needs to do enough research to ensure they have compatible interests and values. Of course, this is best done if the person does have a personal experience or relationship with the organization.
Q: What is the size of your board and what size do you believe is the most effective for nonprofits to use?
A: There are currently 20 board members. I don’t think there is one fixed number that is most effective. The number can change based on the member skills needed, the involvement the board members have with the organization and the total purpose of the board. I would not recommend that the board be any larger than is needed.
Q: What is satisfactory and fulfilling about being a board member?
A: I enjoy seeing and being involved in creating the “big picture.” Being a board member allows me to influence the organization’s strategy. It also provides me a more complete picture of the impact the organization is having on people’s lives.
Q: How do you use your strengths and talents to contribute to the Arthritis Foundation?
A: My contributions to the Arthritis Foundation go beyond being a board member. I am continually excited that the organization has encouraged me to find new ways to apply my strengths and talents into my volunteer work. And while I am performing my volunteer work, I am enhancing my current strengths and talents as well as developing new ones.
I have been able to apply my administrative and management skills as a board member and as chair of the annual Fredericksburg Arthritis Walk. I brought my Internet marketing skills into my personal fundraising and as an adviser to the Let’s Move Together movement (http://www.LetsMoveTogether.org). I even get to use my developing skills as a photographer to capture photos of events.
There is an endless number of ways to contribute. Everyone has strengths and talents that are needed.
Q: What do you believe is your most important role as a board member?
A: Each board member is involved with the Arthritis Foundation in different ways. Each board member also has different skills and experiences to contribute. In my case, I believe my most important role as a board member is to find ways to help the organization meet its mission and to help it stay financially sound. I also bring my experience of volunteering (with the Arthritis Foundation and other organizations) and my involvement with the Arthritis Foundation national office into the board discussions.
Q: What principles and life lessons from your everyday life are you able to incorporate and use for the Arthritis Foundation?
A: My wife Kim and I have chosen to expose our everyday life in dealing with arthritis in support of the Arthritis Foundation and those individuals and families who also suffer from arthritis. I use our life lessons to write and speak on the topic. Go to http://www.everydaygivingblog.com/2008/11/what-is-your-world-changing-story.html to read a recent speech about our lives that I presented at a fundraising event.
Q: In a board of people, it can be difficult to rise up from the crowd of people and be a leader, what ways can a board member become a key leader of the board to really contribute and serve the organization.
A: I don’t believe a board member needs to “rise up from the crowd of people” to be a leader. Each board member can be a leader in his or her own way. There is no board member who is more important than any other.
I have watched a volunteer organization destroyed in the past because “leaders” were more interested in the power they could wield then in forwarding the cause and mission of the organization. That is not my definition of a leader.
A board member needs to evaluate his or her skills, connections and experiences and find a tangible way to get involved in the organization. The board member then needs to actively participate in board meetings. By asking questions and sharing ideas and opinions with the other board members, that person will be influencing others and the organization in a positive way. That is my definition of a leader.
Q: What type of relationship do you believe a board of directors should have with the executive director(ED) or chief executive officer (CEO) of the organization?
A: An open and honest relationship is most important. Without that there will be little or no trust and there will be no way to be effective as an organization. I am fortunate to be a board member of an organization that has a great and mutually supportive relationship across the board and staff.
Q: What are some common ways that a board serves and supports the ED or CEO?
A: The board needs to be an encouragement. The board also needs to provide advice and help in the face of challenges. The board members most likely have skills and connections not available on the ED/CEO staff that can be critical. The board must be willing to be actively engaged.
Q: What are some common ways that a CEO or ED can serve and support his board members?
A: The ED/CEO should be doing everything within his or her power to build quality staff and maintain an effective program with a focus on the organization’s mission and strategy. The ED/CEO should communicate successes, but also be open and honest about the challenges being faced by the organization.
Q: I believe that board members should have to endure training and information sessions for their organization before becoming a board member. What do you think of this?
A: I absolutely agree. A new board member needs to have both a fundamental understanding of the organization and of his or her responsibilities as a board member to be effective.
Q: It’s often said that the job of a nonprofit organization is to work themselves out of a job by eliminating the need that they are working to fill. What are your thoughts on this as a board member?
A: Of course that is the ultimate goal. I would love the need for the Arthritis Foundation to disappear because arthritis is eliminated! In the meantime, I’m going to support the organization to make that a reality in the future.
Q: Do you have any books or resources that you would recommend for people thinking of using their leadership skills as a board member?
A: There is a significant amount of resource material available. I spend a significant time In my car, so podcasts I’ve become very valuable for my learning experience. Two that I would recommend for board members are: BoardStar: On Being Board (http://www.boardstar.org) and the Nonprofit Law Podcast.
A great resource for board learning materials is at http://www.boardsource.org.
Finally, I learned a significant amount in just a few minutes at a workshop led by Carol Weisman (http://www.boardbuilders.com), If you have the opportunity to learn from Carol, jump at the chance.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with the Nonprofit Leadership Blog readers?
A: Everyone should identify their passions and then use their skills and experiences to make a difference in the world. Being a board member of a nonprofit organization is only one way to get involved. You need to find what is right for you. Don’t put it off. Do it today.