I have been watching with great interest the recent debate about the role of volunteers and issues surrounding the level of board governance. In particular, I enjoyed reading editor-in-chief Paul Gentile’s recent column (CU Times, Nov. 2) and the subsequent letters of outrage that followed. Having lived through this debate in credit union land in Australia several years ago it all has a very familiar ring to it. Before leaving Australia last year to live here in the U.S., I was a credit union director for 22 years. When I arrived, I was surprised to find that U.S. credit unions were several years behind the Australian movement on the question of board governance reform. I quickly found that my experience as a director who had lived through significant credit union board governance reform could be put to good use in this country. So far this year, I’ve spoken on this subject at league conferences in nine states, predominately to audiences of volunteers and I’ve written several articles for trade journals. I’ve heard the views of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds as well as those of credit union managers and movement leaders. And I’ve read the results of the Filene Research. Given my experiences now in both countries, I believe there are elements of truth in the views expressed by both sides of the debate. Without doubt, there are a large number of credit unions in this country that could improve their board governance policies and practices. The research findings and my own observations confirm this. On the other hand, volunteers can make some telling points as well. For example they quite correctly point out that there are older white males who make excellent board directors and represent all members in their deliberations on the board. Volunteers are also able to point to governance anomalies in other parts of the movement. Believe me, the same level of emotion existed in Australia when the debate started there. To help take some of the emotion out of the debate, we should focus on the research findings that highlight poor governance policies and practices rather than dwell on the statistical analysis of the outcomes. For example, if a credit union has “leading edge” board composition, succession plans, performance assessment and member involvement policies and practices and still has a board dominated by older white males, I can guarantee that board will be a dynamic board. I’ve also noticed a reluctance by people in the movement, even volunteers who support improvements in governance, to even talk about the subject for fear of upsetting volunteers. This again has a familiar ring to it. Gentile should be congratulated for being prepared to debate the subject. However, in my view real progress will occur when volunteers who believe in the governance improvement process speak out and take action. I’m continually told the reason volunteers are not offended by my urging them to improve their governance standards is because I was a director who lived through the process. Credit union directors in Australia resisted governance reform principally because of fear of the unknown. After going through a governance improvement program this fear was replaced with the comment – I wish we’d done this years ago. I urge all credit union boards to conduct an assessment of their current board governance policies and practices. If you already have excellent governance policies and practices, you will have a document to prove it. On the other hand, if an assessment demonstrates a need to improve your governance policies and practices, why wouldn’t your board want to make the necessary improvements? I’m happy to use my experience to help any board go through this process. Improving board governance is a never ending process that requires continual change. While coping with change can sometimes be difficult for some people, it is vital to remember the words of Benjamin Franklin – “When you’re finished changing – you’re finished!” Mark Lynch Presenter & Governance Consultant Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

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