For years now I’ve been involved in NGOs and I’m constantly being surprised with how people perceive Board Members and how Board Members themselves perceive their role. To some, a Board is a group of people who endlessly do meetings after meetings with no avail and to others, it’s some mythical, grandiose, elitist group who got special powers to lead the organization. So let me help you demystify all that…
My involvement ranges from small local clubs to a national organizations to branches of international organizations. Irrespective of shape, size or topic of those NGOs, I can easily draw a line of similarity among them.
To start with, the Board is sometimes called Board of Directors, Steering Committee, Executive Board or Executive Committee, so in spite of the naming diversity, the roles and responsibilities stay the same.
So let’s talk about the core of the issue. Board members have 3 key roles that form the pillars of any NGO and are as follows:
Decision Making: Board member are usually the founding members or are elected members that lead the organization. In this context, all major decision making in the organization goes through them. Now it has been noticed over and over again that many Board Members become passive and rather apathetic to decisions being taken, which makes the whole organization go biased towards the opinions of the remaining Board Members. So if you’re on a Board of an NGO and you see this happening around you, don’t freak out, you’re not alone…its a trend!
Yet it’s important to deal with this issue as it is crucial to have all Board Members involved in all decisions or else you’ll start seeing resistance and conflicts arising here and there every once in a while, especially from those same inactive Board Members.
What makes decision making in NGOs different from Private Sector or Governmental Institutions, is the fact that everyone’s opinion matters and most decisions are done either democratically or through consensus, so it should never be a one man show. If it seems to be or become a one man show, then you know it’s about time to change some things…
Organizational/Executive/Functional: In addition to having decision making role, all Board have a distribution of roles and responsibilities where the most common structure is “President, Vice President, General Secretary, Treasurer & Accountant” thus each of those individuals not only has his decision making role, but also a functional role to play, whether it’s taking care of financials, or internal communication or following up on tasks or heading committees..etc. Thus if those tasks and responsibilities are implemented properly, you would’ve successfully built the second pillar of the NGO to ensure that it stands tall and becomes sustainable. When this role is done properly, the internal dynamics of the organization start functioning properly.
Jack-of-All-Traders: Yes you read it right, as soon as you become a Board Member of an NGO you suddenly get to become a jack of all trades as your responsibilities will expand beyond what you expect. So you roll up your sleeves and you start doing tasks related to strategic planning, outreach, public relations, proposal writing, volunteer management, project management, reporting, web development, graphic design, fundraising, training, consulting, event organizing and so on and so forth. So when you’re joining the Board of an NGO, its not just about doing your decision making or your functional role, but you’re expected to be involved at all levels, in all your projects and operations and to become well knowledgeable about them to assist, support and improve what your organization does.
So in a nutshell, I can say those 3 pillars are what makes a healthy Board and thus a healthy organization if they were implemented properly and professionally. If you’re a Board Member, and you feel you’re missing out on any of those…then double check with your team as you are probably holding your organization back because are doing them. Whereas if you’re doing all three and you feel other Board Members aren’t, then its about time you share the workload with them.
On a last note, properly leading an NGO can be as consuming and demanding, if not more demanding, then leading your own company due to the social factor of it and having several decision makers with you on equal levels of authority, ownership and responsibility…
So if you’re a Board Member on an NGO… God bless you! and if you know someone who is…now you know why they do so many meetings! hehehe
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Being a volunteer myself involved in leading volunteers, I get to reflect often on how things are done and how to improve.
It is without doubt that leading volunteers tends to be tricky as you’ll have to ensure motivation and commitment are high at all times. Moreover, you’ll need to take care of the feelings and aspirations of the volunteers, no matter how young or old they are.
So to make things simple, I am going to share with you 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts in managing and leading volunteers:
- Thank volunteers at every milestone, every good report, every job well done. There is no upper limit of how much you can thank them and how. It can range from a simple thank you email, a tap on the shoulder, to inviting them for a free dinner/lunch/get-away.
- Give volunteers space to make decisions and have a say in what is being done. Barely anyone likes to do donkey work or to simply follow steps given, let the volunteer role be more demanding and challenging.
- Lead by being a role model, show the way and be the first to step up for action. It takes people a very short time to realize preachers from doers.
- Follow up, follow up, follow up… oh and did I say it’s important to follow up? You wont imagine how smooth things will go if you just remind people if they missed something ,follow up on tasks to be done and make sure things are progressing as planned. If you just sit there and expect volunteers to get things done without any follow up..at least at the beginning, then you’ll be surprised.
- Be friendly, polite and respectful. Yes they may seem trivial, but so many times discussions, emails or meetings can become tense, issues urgent, stakes high…that you might lose your temper, say something mean, be a bit harsh or disrespectful. Once you do that..you know you’re going to lose some one from the team or lose their trust and respect to say the least.
- Don’t underestimate any volunteer’s abilities, knowledge, network or creativity. You’ll be surprised with how much people can do when you believe in them.
- Don’t blame or criticize volunteers publicly. Keep morale high and respect of others to each other and to yourself, if you have something negative to say…say it one-to-one.
- Don’t take all the credit. Give credit where credit belongs… if the team is doing a good job, you owe them the credit, not yourself.
- Don’t be biased for personal reasons. Give work, credit or thanks for those who are doing work…not for those you like or you’re friends with.
- Don’t keep information hidden to yourself. Sharing knowledge, experience, information, contacts ..etc. with your team is key to show them you trust them and to empower them with what they need to lead…to become self-motivated and self-managed.
I hope those few things help you out!
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I’m going to share with you some of the things I’ve realized about leadership in the several places I’ve volunteered/worked…and I believe they do apply, more or less, at all levels and in all kinds of organizations whether for profit, non profit or governmental.
I believe a clear set of qualities can be found across most those who we look up to as leaders or enjoy working with. Some of which are the following:
Vision: A leader without a vision is like a captain sailing a ship into oblivion. Without a clear direction, a goal or even a dream…that person is not leading but merely managing the work being done without giving much value to why is it being done, how and what for.
Trust: This has proved to be so essential for anyone to be a leader, he/she needs to be trusted and to be able to know how trust others. Without that sense of trust, the leader will quickly loose ground and wont have a team to work with.
Transparency: If the leader is not clear with those he’s working with then they will lose interest, have distorted ideas of what needs to be done, and they most probably will not have a shared common goal.
Stability: A leader needs to be to stable and strong to be able to support his/her team. Without that stability, both he/she and his/her team will crumble sooner or later. Stability comes from several factors…from within, from the society, from family, from work, finances…etc. Thus it is tricky to strike a balance between it all and manage to be as strong and stable as a mountain.
Competence: Any leader who is not found to be competent and able to implement work properly, he/she will not be able to lead a team. Being able to lead others by example proved to be one of the most effective ways. Thus sharing the successes and achievements he/she has done and can do in the future will raise the moral of his/her team and provide guidance.
Humbleness: A leader’s ego can lead to his/her downfall if it is not checked and trimmed often. The leader needs to keep his/her feet on the ground, always treat others as equals and make sure that how he/she acts/talks does not reflect any bossy-attitude, arrogance or a sense of superiority. Everyone on the team is equally important, respectful and worth giving the attention of the leader to develop and grow.
I know those aren’t much, but after my personal reflections those seemed to be the most obvious and note-worthy qualities that a person needs to have to be able to lead.
Let me know if you have others in mind