Local 316 (Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox-Addington) held a workshop recently on an introduction to the roles and responsibilities of directors of volunteer boards. The workshop opened with a presentation by NFU national vice-president, Paul Slomp, an Ottawa area farmer, on why the NFU’s advocacy for small and medium-sized family farms is so vital in food and farm issues in Canada.
The governance workshop covered topics such as what makes an effective board, conflict of interest and an overview of the legal responsibilities of board members. Twenty five people attended, including Local 316 board and committee members and representatives of other farm and rural organizations in the area.
The workshop leaders were Vicki Schmolka and Jim Docherty, Kingston area residents with years of professional and personal experience on boards. They recommended OMAF fact sheets on rural organizations and Imagine Canada as sources of information for volunteer boards. From the Community Literacy of Ontario website, they listed the following responsibilities of individual board members:
- act in the best interests of the organization;
- understand the roles and responsibilities of being a board member
- be familiar with the organization’s bylaws, policies and procedures, strategic plan, mission, etc
- ensure he/she avoids conflicts of interest, including operating in the best interests of the organization, not in self-interest or the interest of a stakeholder group;
- respect confidentiality polices that pertain to membership and board discussions;
- keep informed about the organization’s financial activity and legal discussions;
- bring his/her own skills, experience and knowledge to the organization;
- attend board meetings regularly and arrive prepared for meetings; and,
- support board decisions once they have been voted on.
What’s Good about Being on a Volunteer Board?
Participants in the Local 316 governance workshop listed the following benefits of being on a volunteer board or committee:
A. achieving outcomes: you create solutions and work on positive projects; you get something going and improve things; you help your community; your participation has an impact and is a pathway to making change; you can work on community and world issues; you achieve common goals in a group; and the creativity of the group leads to generating ideas.
B. creating relationships: you grow and evolve; you get informed and learn what is going on in your community; you get out and learn skills and knowledge: you become engaged in your community; you give back to your community; you network with others, make new connections and meet new and interesting people; the process is enjoyable and you get a feeling of belonging or being in a safe place; there is power in working together; and the food is good!
What Makes a Board Work Effectively?
During the Local 316 governance workshop, participants compiled this list of characteristics for an effective board:
- projects of common interest and focus
- a clear common mission, purpose or goal, with periodic review
- good decision-making processes
- accountability structures
- clear communication among board members and between the board and others
- listening to its membership
- timelines for actions and projects
- good facilitation at meetings and orderly, effective meetings
- diverse skills among the board members and committee members, with good synergy among the members
- the humility to ask for help and reach out to other resources
- follow-through on commitments
- people feel that their ideas and actions are respected and valued
- actions are measurable
- objectives lead to outcomes, and outcomes lead to change (and new objectives)
- members keep the good of the organization in mind (and not their own egos)