We are about to begin the program year for non-profit organizations, and as the summer break comes to an end boards of directors and the relevant committees will begin meeting. The scheduling of meetings often sets the tone for the year and this provides the president and the executive with an opportunity to let the members of the board know the non-profit is serious about the various meetings. The timing of the meetings is a way of saying, “We have work to do this year and we want you to take our efforts seriously so we are providing you with a schedule of the meetings for the year.”
The use of time means planning the timing of board meetings for the year. While taking into consideration the busy periods during the year, the times when people take vacations, and school holidays, if there are parents of younger children who are involved in the board and the committees. This means the week of Thanksgiving is avoided; staying away from December 20th through the first week in January; and knowing the religious affiliation of your volunteers so they are not in conflict with important holy days, for example, Easter or Passover. The less people have to rearrange their lives the more available they will be to give of their time and effort for their voluntary organization.
It is not only a matter of avoiding holidays and other conflicts, but it is also part of the thoughtful and strategic use of the organization’s calendar. This means deciding on the rhythm of the board meetings and then providing time for the committees to meet prior to the board meetings. This provides for both the reporting on the committees activities as well as deciding what issues will be brought to the board for discussion and when to make decisions on policies, programs, budgets, etc. The professional staff and the veteran lay leaders are familiar with the workings of the board and the timing of decisions on fundraising activities, budgets, programs, and other on-going activities. These should be taken into consideration when planning the calendar of events.
I would like to use the work of a finance committee as an example of the purposeful use of time. It is appropriate for the committee to report on the budget at each meeting of the board. The finance committee would meet sometime prior to the board meeting each month. Let’s say the board meeting was the third week of each month, this gives exactly two and half weeks for the finance committee to meet before the report is due at the board meeting. A calendar of committee meetings could be developed that would provide for the finance committee’s meetings at the appropriate time. This would be planned with the staff person who is assigned to the committee and with the chairperson of the committee. Enough time would be provided so following the committee’s deliberations a report could be prepared for the board so they are aware of the financial standing of the organization.
At the same time, the finance committee would also be working on the next year’s budget and depending on the fiscal year of the agency the committee would provide a draft of the proposed budget for the coming year so the appropriate staff and board members could review prior to presenting it to the entire board for discussion and approval. The emphasis is on the planning process using time to the advantage of the organization and not being driven by having to finish things by a certain date. When the process is arranged in advance, the work of the committees can strengthen the board, and there is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when the work is completed in a timely fashion. In the same way, other standing committees of the board would develop an appropriate schedule for meetings.
One of the crucial factors in this equation of balancing the work of the committee with the decision-making process of the board, is the relationship between the staff person assigned to the committee and the committee chairperson. The team work enables use of the committee process to simultaneously complete the task and strengthen the role of the committee members. Working together they enable members to become more involved in the issues and more committed to the work of the organization.
Last but not least is looking at the “work culture” of the board and its committees. The committee and board process are serious and important, however, when people come together to volunteer their time they should have a good time together. The staff person and the volunteer leader need to be aware that their members should be leaving a meeting not only feeling they have used their time well and they have had an enjoyable time with each other.
As the summer is coming to a close and we are gearing up for a new program year, this is the time to examine the organization’s calendar and plan for the coming year. You have the opportunity to use the months and year ahead to involve the committees in accomplishing the agency’s goals and strengthening the organization’s leadership structure and thereby strengthening the organization.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.