I work with a lot of credit unions and their volunteer boards of directors. Volunteers can be an asset and a liability to any organization. When the role of the volunteer is clearly defined and followed, the volunteer has a better chance of benefiting the credit union. If the roles aren’t clearly defined or a volunteer isn’t following their role, the organization can suffer greatly.
These tips are for anyone who is or wants to be a great volunteer board member.
Tip 1: Read.
Read all the material you can about the credit union. This includes bylaws, the past year’s board minutes, financial statements, auditor’s reports and press releases.
In addition, read about the industry. Stay current with new regulatory guidelines and how these might affect your credit union. Keep informed of industry trends and what others are doing. Look ahead to new technology and delivery systems. Read about what other financial institutions are coming up with in your market place. A well informed board member will enhance meetings and discussions.
Tip 2: Prepare.
Come prepared for each meeting. This includes reading the board packets and materials. Your responsibility is to read all the information thoroughly and study the material Give the CEO a head’s up on questions you might have so everyone can be prepared. “Gotcha questions” only serve to make the questioner look ridiculous.
Make sure your questions are relevant. Your questions should help to clarify and improve understanding and discussion. I was once asked, ‘How many people didn’t join the credit union this month because we lowered the share rate?’ I answered “five.”
Tip 3: Term limits.
This tip may be difficult for many. The credit union you’re involved with may or may not have formal term limits. Consider limiting your time serving on the board. Give someone else a chance to be of service. As your credit union grows, new members are joining and may offer expertise that you don’t have. Planned turnover on the board is healthy and can revitalize decision making.
Tip 4: Self-evaluation.
Volunteer boards are often hesitant to say anything critical about their fellow board members – they are volunteering, how can we say he’s doing a bad job? Having a formal process of evaluating each other and having paid management evaluate board members can point out how the board and individual members can be more effective. Be open to how you can get better.
Tip 5: Your role.
Understand the board’s primary responsibility is to represent the members. Board members provide oversight, direction and guidance to management. Let management run the organization. I’ve seen credit unions destroyed because board members start running the organization themselves. Clarify your role and stay out of the day to day operations.
Tip 6: Respect.
When the board has made a decision, support that decision or get off the board. It’s not productive when board members keep revisiting decisions each month that they don’t support.
Respect that management is always doing the best they can. You may focus on the organization once or twice a month. Management has a daily focus. Honor that not all your great ideas will be embraced or implemented in the time frame you would like, if at all.
Tip 7: Social.
You may be friendly with your fellow board members. Be careful not to put your social eggs in the board basket. Having very close friends as fellow board members can cause conflicts and a lack of perceived independence. A healthy exchange of each board member’s opinions makes for better decisions.
Tip 8: Looking forward.
In each board meeting there is an element of looking at the past: the result of past decisions, monitoring financial statements, charging off loans, reviewing delinquencies, etc. Good information to monitor. Exclusively dwelling on the past can result in missed opportunities. Ensure each meeting has a portion of time devoted to the future. The board sets strategic direction on where they want the credit union to be. How the credit union gets there is the job of paid staff.
Tip 9: Agendas.
Ask yourself, why are you serving on the credit union board? There are many answers to this question and you are the best one to answer that. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many personal agendas cloud the decision making process. As a representative of the membership, you’ll want to understand how many members are impacted by the ideas and decisions you’re implementing. When it is a very small group without potential for more, you may want to consider spending your time and resources in other areas.
Tip 10: Recruitment.
Board members are great ambassadors of the credit union among the field of membership. As you interact with other members, be on the lookout for potential board members or supervisory members. You’ll want to make sure they are interested and engaged in the credit union. You’ll also want to seek out those who reflect the membership who aren’t currently represented on the board. These individuals may be women, young, from a new select employee group, different economic status or different ethnicity. A diverse board that reflects the membership is better positioned to serve the entire membership.
Holly Herman, former chief of staff for former NCUA Chairman Joann Johnson, is an achievement coach with AchievingSkills.com. Contact 914-439-6816 or Holly@AchievingSkills.com