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.
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.