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
Other interesting posts:
- Mentor, Coach & Consultant: What is the Difference?
- Teacher, Trainer & Facilitator: What’s the Difference?
- Creating Organizational Structures that Work
- NGOs, Project Management & Serendipity
- Human Capital Management in NGOs
- 5 Dos & Don’ts of Leading Volunteers
- HARD Goals Vs SMART Goals
- My Two Cents on Leadership
- Secrets of a Great Workplace
- Ideas to Actions
The more I see companies, NGOs, associations and other organizations struggle to make sense of who’s doing what in the organization the more I become convinced that structuring is crucial.
When I say structuring, many people directly imagine hierarchy, bureaucracy and lack of flexibility… yet that does not have to be the case. Organizational structures, if done well, will build on the expertise of individuals involved, the organizational capacity, needs and goals. These elements are the corner stone to building a successful organization that can secure sustainability and growth.
Simple yet crucial questions I ask to the organizations I consult include:
- Who sets the organizational structure?
- Who decides when and how new positions/responsibilities are added to the structure?
- Is the organizational structure Functional, Projectized or Matrix?
- Does everyone know their roles and responsibilities?
- Does everyone know how their tasks fit with others’ tasks?
- Is there a promotion/growth plan for the organization?
- Does everyone know what is needed to do to move up the ladder?
- Does everyone see the big picture, the overall structure and the logic behind it?
- Is there a chance to solicit feedback about the structure from grassroots up?
- Did you research structures of organizations in your industry and learn from them?
Surprisingly, most people know the answer of 2 or 3 of the above 10…and that’s when they realize they’re facing a problem with the organizational structure. The structure often seems so foggy as if it is coming from some alien planet, rather than being something that grew organically with the organization in a way to better manage its work…and reach its goals.
Building on my humble experience and the research I’ve made…the few recommendations I can give to people who are working on establishing/improving an organizational structure are as follows:
- Observe how the organization is functioning right now, see where the bottlenecks are, and the loop holes.
- Assess the performance of the whole organization by taking input of everyone possible, from senior management to interns to all other stakeholders.
- Ask yourself what other structures exist for your industry and how can you best learn from them.
- Focus on roles, responsibilities and tasks…not on the titles and positions, as they should come last after having set the structure.
- Make sure you have the right people in the right places, the Person-Role must match or they will already be sabotaging your organization.
- Resistance to change is normal, deal with it with utmost positivity and be as considerate and understand of other’s worries as possible or else you’ll lose their productivity.
- Give your structure a margin of change as it might need to evolve a bit from your original plan to accommodate to some personal and organizational needs.
I hope the above gave you a better insight on creating organizational structures that work… I’m ready for all questions, suggestions and comments.
Happy Structuring! 😀
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The bellow article is featured on Youth Action Net Website
What began in Tunisia in December 2010 led to the mass demonstrations in Egypt starting on January 25, and now the rest of the Arab world is following. Lebanon is no exception. On February 27th, many Lebanese youth activists gathered for a demonstration against the sectarian system in Lebanon, demanding changes in both the constitution and the way daily governmental business is carried out.
This rising consciousness and refusal to succumb to the status quo is rooted in the same spirit that prompted myself and a group of friends to launch Aie Serve four years ago. Instead of staying silent, we decided to take positive action. Aie Serve is a youth-based, youth-managed, and youth-funded organization dedicated to promoting a culture of volunteerism in Lebanon. Translated from Japanese, aie (pronounced “I”) means love.
The idea for Aie Serve came during the aftermath of the 2006 July War on Lebanon and resulted from the sharp polarization of Lebanese youth along sectarian, political, and religious lines. We started brainstorming ways of tackling this issue and agreed that three basic values were missing in Lebanon: Love, Tolerance, and Respect. We espouse love for others based on who they are and not which political background or sect they are from, while promoting tolerance and respect of others’ point of views and beliefs.
Over time, we started gathering more ideas and people, organizing ourselves while focusing on serving our community and society at-large. Aie Serve evolved from a group of friends, to a group of community-service minded youth, to a team and an organization. Examples of Aie Serve volunteer activities include book and clothing donation drives, reforestation and recycling projects, and assistance to orphans and the elderly.
In the last four years, we’ve experienced exceptional growth in the number of projects we do, our members, and our outreach. The impact we see on the ground is both fulfilling and inspirational. We find volunteerism is now contagious wherever we go. What’s more – in keeping with our mission – we find that caring for others is a universal value that brings people together and bridges divides.
Those around me know quite well that I am an optimist and a hard worker and so I believe that with a vision, hard work, and true commitment a small, dedicated group can achieve great things… and the biggest proof is where Aie Serve stands to day!
Afif Tabsh is Co-founder and voluntary President of Aie Serve. In 2011, he was named one of ten finalists selected for the King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement.