One of my first jobs was working for the Chamber of Commerce in the small town I grew up in. Here, I learned many valuable lessons and got an inside look at how businesses function. I saw numerous examples of how to be an effective leader and what not to say if I wanted to stay out of trouble. While there, I had several opportunities to see how a board of directors could and should function. I had regular interactions with board members and, on occasion, got to hear about different struggles through the lens of others.
Years later, I have had the opportunity to serve on two nonprofit executive boards, work for two years on the BYU PRSSA Chapter board and have studied the topic in-depth in my nonprofit management minor classes. While each board may function differently, there are several guiding principles that apply to any executive board.
- Know and understand your bylaws.
The bylaws of an organization serve as a foundation and guide to all that you do. If written correctly, the bylaws should help with the electoral process, give an understanding of the roles each board member plays and offer assistance when unique situations pop up. The bylaws should be accessible to every member of the organization and each member of the board should be familiar with its contents. With regards to PRSSA Chapters, look to the National bylaws for guidance in potentially making changes but keep in mind that you should not make revisions unless the entire organization is in agreement. If you don’t attempt to follow these guidelines, you can get off track very quickly.
- Make sure your board fits with your organization.
Keeping in mind with what I just said, take an inventory of your current board structure to make sure it fits with the size and capacity of your Chapter. If you have a smaller membership, you may need to have a smaller board. However, you could also increase the size of your board to give more leadership opportunities and to lighten the load on each member. Consider each position and see if roles overlap. Look to other Chapters of similar size or geographic location and see what they are doing. Work with your Regional Ambassador or a National Committee member to see what adjustments you could make.
- Prime candidates early.
Taking on a leadership role can be a big decision for many. Sometimes it will cause them to go outside of their comfort zone as they approach a whole new world. The more time someone has to consider a position and weigh their feelings, the more solid that person will be in the end. Start looking for people to fill vacant board positions months before elections. When you encounter people that could be a good fit, tell them! You’d be surprised how often that encouragement can make all of the difference.
- Setting expectations before elections.
Being a member of an executive board is a commitment and it’s important to understand that. It should be made clear before submitting candidacy on details like roles, meeting schedules, amount of hours during the week and recognizing the need to be reachable throughout the week. It could be helpful to have all of this information in a mock contract and have people sign it before committing to serving on your board.
- Developing a culture of communication.
For people who study and work in communications, this can sometimes be our weakest link. To have a functioning board, each member must care for what is in their stewardship and be accountable to the other board members. Develop a system of accountability where each member can frequently report what is happening to the Chapter President or the rest of the executive board.
- Training and planned transition is the key to success.
The most critical step in this process is creating a plan where you can pass the torch to the new board members. The band aid approach is NOT the best solution. Plan on having at least 2-3 board meetings where newly elected members can talk about what has occurred in the past year. Help them set goals and share what you have learned from your mistake. Pass off important documents and information to help them succeed (especially the login information to the social media accounts). If you have reached your goals this year, the last thing you would want to do is have the next group flop because you didn’t plan time to work through the details. Many organizations will plan a retreat where you can get away for a day or the weekend to build relationships and work through these details.
Your new board is in place and you are ready to rock! Once the group is formed there are other principles you should keep in mind to be successful. Some of these include running effective board meetings, using committees to maximize efforts and setting goals to help you stretch.
Serving on an executive board is an amazing experience. If you treat your time on a PRSSA board, like you would if you were working with a large nonprofit, you will grow immensely. You will learn how to solve problems, work cohesively as a team and develop great friendships along the way.
Colin Wylie is a senior at Brigham Young University and is currently serving as a PRSSA Regional Ambassador. He is majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Nonprofit Management. He is passionate about corporate social responsibility and wants to play a part in changing the world. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram or take a look at his online portfolio.