Every year, second year Fellows in the Longwood Graduate Program are appointed as non-voting members to local non-profit boards. This year, I am excited to serve on the board of Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids.
Child harvesting radishes
Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids (HFHK) is a non-profit organization based in Hockessin, DE. HFHK partners with Delaware schools to start vegetable gardening programs that are fully integrated into the science curriculum. HFHK helps to establish the school program over 2-3 semesters and then gradually transfers the responsibility of the program to the school. HFHK currently assists 21 schools in northern Delaware and works with approximately 8,000 students.
As part of the program, students experience all aspects of vegetable growing, from seed to harvest to table. Different grades take on different responsibilities in the gardens that support their studies or curriculum. The gardens are strategically planted so that they provide provide learning opportunities and food during the spring and fall seasons but require no care during the summer months when schools are not in session.
Serving on the board of HFHK is a wonderful learning experience. The organization is well established but still quite small. The board meets on a monthly basis. It is actively working to recruit new board members as it looks to the future and to ensuring its longevity.
Having worked at a fledgling non-profit in the past and then having seen the board of an older organization like Longwood Gardens, working with a board somewhere in the middle is invaluable to my development as a public horticulture professional. I am honored and delighted to have the opportunity to work with Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids.
One exciting aspect of being a Longwood Graduate Fellow is that in the second year of the program we are appointed to sit as an observer on the Board of a local institution of horticulture. I was appointed to the Tyler Arboretum and attended my first Board meeting last week.
One of Tyler’s Treasures (Sequoiadendron giganteum)
A non-profit organization’s Board of Directors (or Board of Trustees in Tyler’s case) has numerous responsibilities. Its purpose can vary depending on the institution, but in most cases the purpose is to provide guidance and oversight. The responsibilities can include maintaining momentum, approving finances, overseeing fundraising, working in committees and promoting the institution.
I have often wondered what the Board really does and how influential they are. I’ve wondered how the Board members can be effective. Sitting in on my first Board meeting at Tyler seemed like a good way to start my investigation.
The meeting took place near the end of the workday and lasted about an hour and a half. There were snacks and refreshments since it was a scorcher of a summer day. A variety of topics were covered, a few things were voted upon, some great news was shared, some questions asked, research assigned, events noted, updates given and then there was a motion to close the meeting. Pretty standard fare as I understand it, but what I enjoyed the most was seeing the way the Board members interacted with me and with eachother. As I watched them work through the various issues at hand I noticed a few common threads that seemed to define the individuals. I noted the following items that seemed like the six ‘must-do’s’ being effective:
- You have to be realistic but you have to be fearless
- You have to be willing to ask questions when things don’t make sense and ready to celebrate the small victories when they do.
- You have to have genuine interest in the institution, yet be able to keep your perspective.
- You have to figure out how far a dollar will go without sacrificing your mission or the quality of your work.
- You have to be excited by the opportunity to look for and design alternative solutions and when you find them you have to be willing to accept them.
- You have to choose the right people and then trust them to do their job.
I look forward to my year observing Tyler’s Board of Trustees and plan to periodically check-in on the LGP blog with the new insights gained about the purpose of Boards and the methods that make them most effective.