3 Key Roles of NGO Board Members

NGO Board Pillars

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:

Advertisements

Creating Organizational Structures that Work

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!  😀

Other interesting articles:

Human Capital Management in NGOs

To be honest I’ve researched for a while to get my hands on some useful material about Human Capital Management(HCM) in the NGO sector, especially in managing volunteers…not just staff. Yet I’ve failed to find substantial and relative material to build on. Therefore the following is a compilation of my personal experience in HCM in NGOs, specifically in Lebanon, through Aie Serve and other NGOs/Clubs that I train and consult.

To  make the discussion more meaningful I’ll separate HCM into 5 discussable stages, read on for the details:

Organization’s Structural Design

To truly create a Human Capital strategy for the organization, work needs to start on the Organizational Structure first. In this context, a lot of NGOs have a staff based structure, or volunteers structure, or simply committees or even no structure at all aside from the “Board”. This will need to change since adopting an HCM strategy, the structure will need to be redesigned to better fit the current needs and provide space for growth in the future.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • What is the current structure and is it really implemented on the ground?
  • Does the structure provide space for further growth or does it need total make over?
  • Do the positions fit in and complement each other or are there gaps?
  • Is the NGO based on volunteers, staff or both? Do they know how to interact?
  • How is the decision making done and who has it in the organization? Centralized or diverse?


Setting Roles & Responsibilities

After setting the structure, its time to know what does each and every person do exactly. The interesting and surprising part here is that many if not most of the NGOs I work with have incomplete roles & responsibilities description of the team. Many people are left without clear delineation of what tasks shall they do, what are they responsible of, who do they report to, what decisions can they make …and so on and so forth.  Therefore it is essential that each person in the organization not only knows where he/she fits in the structure but also know what role do they play. Moreover, if they wish to grow..then the path they should follow need to be clear.

 Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • Are there Duty Descriptions or Roles & Responsibilities documents for the positions?
  • Are people aware of each other’s role’s and responsibilities?
  • Is regular updating and upgrading for those documents done?
  • Who is involved in drafting and modifying those documents?


Setting & Implementing Recruitment Processes

Now that the structure is clear and so are the roles & responsibilities of everyone, the challenging part is how to get those people onboard. Having a consistent and clear recruitment process is essential to ensure that all potentials are tapped and the right people are recruited.  To do this a recruitment process needs to be designed in a way that it reflects the culture of the organization, the way people will be dealing with each other. The process should be clear for all those in the organization so that they understand what shall they do if they want to recruit more people.

 Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How do people apply for the NGO?
  • Does the NGO recruit volunteers or staff or ?
  • Do members of the NGO join by invitation only or do they have an entry point?
  • Is there a standard procedure of interviews and applications or ?


Training & Coaching

Once everyone is onboard and in place, the time comes where people need to better understand how to do what they’re supposed to do. At this point, training and coaching all the new recruits comes in place. So developing a clear and flexible training program and coaching process are necessary to ensure that the new recruits are empowered with the appropriate information, skills and tools to do their duties properly. Moreover, the coaching process shall allow the recruits to not only do their roles properly but also to excel and grow as a person, and perhaps suggest improvements to the process.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How will the new recruits know what to do and how?
  • Who will be training/coaching them?
  • Is there a training manual in place?
  • Is there a clear coaching procedure and standards?


Performance Evaluation & Enhancement

After having set everything and people are performing and excelling, it’s very important to measure the overall performance and growth of both individuals and the organization. It is important to ensure that both individual and organizational goals are synchronized for this process to work. Moreover, assessment metrics will need to be developed either at the “Roles & Responsibilities” stage or throughout the process of execution so that a clear evaluation can be done at important turning points and end of year assessments.

Crucial questions to ask at this stage are:

  • How would you know or measure that someone is doing their role properly?
  • Who is responsible of assessing/evaluating?
  • Can a follow up and training process be designed to build the skills and fill the gaps according to the results of the evaluation?

Other Interesting Posts: