10 Best Practices for Managing Volunteer Boards & Commissions

Posted on April 18, 2018

Welcome to the blog series, “The Local Government Nerve Center” — all about the amazing and important work of clerks and recorders. 

By Megan Asikainen, Solution Architect, CivicPlusLinkedIn

Your role as a clerk makes you a vital component of the success of your municipal boards and commissions. You may be finding, however, that learning how to lead these groups effectively has not come easily. Do not be frustrated. It takes time and experience to master the art of effective board leadership. To help you on your path to management greatness, we have compiled ten best practices for clerks to successfully lead their volunteer boards and commissions to greatness.

  1. Set the Standard for Effective Board Governance. The first step to success is to see yourself as the standard-bearer of your committee. Hold yourself to a high standard, and those around you will also strive for greatness. Your demeanor, perspective, and attitude will set the tone for the board and will impact your committee members’ willingness to hold open dialogue, collaborate effectively, consider one another’s perspectives, and work diligently toward achieving shared goals. 
  1. Plan Accordingly for Cyclical Responsibilities. Your boards and committees likely experience cyclical responsibilities, from planning to program execution, to recruitment, to onboarding. Your job will be to prepare for these seasonal responsibilities and keep your board members on task and on time, regardless of any other unexpected needs that may arise. 
  1. Keep the Conversation Focused. You are responsible for leading discussions, enabling timely resolutions, and ensuring enough time and emphasis is placed on the topics that will have the most significant impact on the lives of your citizens. Make sure you are guiding the discussion, ensuring everyone’s perspective is heard, and leading efforts to decide on a resolution and move forward with a strategy for execution. 
  1. Complete Required Tasks, but Stay Focused on Your Vision. It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of the board, which is why it is essential that you keep your committee members focused on your shared vision and goals. Ensure regular dialogue is placed on goals and strategic planning. Regularly assess the results of your goals with quantitative and qualitative measures to ensure you are tracking the results of your efforts. Doing so will help keep all members focused on, and motivated by, the initiatives that matter most toward the board’s success. 
  1. Seek Feedback on Agenda Topics. Do not merely set an agenda. Ask your board members to collaborate on the agenda with you. When board members feel that they are helping to steer priorities and that they have an impact on the topics that are discussed, they will feel valued and remain productive, positive, and committed. An agenda and meeting management software solution can help you automate the agenda collaboration process, so it does not become too time-consuming to manage each meeting cycle. 
  1. Put a Governance Committee in Place. If your board does not already have one, establish a governance committee. These subgroups are primarily responsible for assessing the effectiveness of the board and leading efforts to make improvements when necessary. This type of internal check-and-balance process will ensure board efficacy and efficiency and will encourage members to feel they have a role to play in the board’s success. 
  1. Recruit for High Performers. The most qualified and capable board members are too often the least available ones. Make every effort to bring a diversified team together to lead board efforts. Ensuring your board is comprised of individuals with a variety of perspectives, experiences, and skill sets will produce the best collaboration and the most successful goal execution. Also, be sure to future-proof your board member strategy. Try not to focus on stop-gap staffing measures. Instead, think long-term about the skills and personnel your board will need for continual success, and look to recruit those individuals. 
  1. Keep Accurate Records. Review your board bylaws and any applicable municipal regulations to be sure you are meeting record retention requirements. Not only will proper documentation help your board remain focused on its goals and assess its performance, but it will also ensure transparency and earn the support of civic leaders and citizens. 
  1. Stimulate Open Dialogue to Resolve Conflict. Know that your board members will inevitably disagree on a topic. They may also disagree with you at one time or another. Know that differences of opinion can help to encourage necessary dialogue that will help to vet opportunities and resolution efforts. The key is to enable the types of discussions that involve equal parts listening and speaking among all parties. Ensure you are leading proactive, respectful debates and that ultimately all members respect the decision for how your board will collectively move forward. 
  1. Remain Positive and Committed to Your Goals. There is a reason you love your job, and a reason you are the right person to lead your board. Even when a problematic situation needs time and attention, always remind yourself about the goals you are trying to achieve, and that your efforts are directly impacting and improving the lives of your neighbors and friends in your community. Doing so will help reinforce your leadership excellence and give you the perspective you need to keep moving forward.

About the Author Megan Asikainen
As a solution architect for CivicClerk, Megan is responsible for ensuring the product continues to evolve to meet the ever expanding and shifting role of the clerk in the digital era. Before joining the product innovation team at CivicPlus, Megan worked for over 12 years as a city clerk. She draws on her public sector experience as she works with CivicPlus’ product developers and clients to customize the CivicClerk solution. Megan received the Certified Municipal Clerk designation from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks in 2014 and the Missouri Registered City Clerk designation in 2010. She has also been recognized among the “30 Leaders in their Thirties” Leadership Award by the North County Incorporated Regional Development Association of the St. Louis area in 2013.

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