The holidays are a great time to catch up on reading – and to prepare for the new year. This year I’m hoping to help encourage new board members to sign on with a local organization. And I’m lucky to have Doreen Pendgracs‘ handy reference, Before You Say Yes: A Guide to the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards.
Doreen has served on many boards, and is currently vice-president of the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC). I met her at a PWAC annual general meeting a few years ago, and asked her to give a workshop for our local chapter. Her real-life experience helps her make some great pointers in this book that I plan to pass along to our members.
For instance, she writes about different types of boards and how they run, as well as the etiquette expected of a board member. She covers the responsibilities of the position, including financial obligations and compensation, and the special knowledge that goes with the job. For instance, she defines terms like “fiduciary duty” – which means always acting in the best interest of the organization – and discusses Robert’s Rules of Order.
One great idea I took away from this book is to present “tip sheets” for new board members. She says :
- “These useful documents provided directors with clear and correct information – accessible at their fingertips – so that answers given by the various board members to the inevitable questions were all accurate and along the same wavelength.”
Strategies like that could help our new board members. I found many useful ideas in Before You Say Yes, so I decided to ask Doreen more about the book.
Here are her answers:
1) Doreen, I was impressed by the number of useful suggestions in your book, Before You Say Yes: A Guide to the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards. Why did you decide to write the book?
DP: I had just completed a six-year term on the board of Access Copyright, Canada’s Copyright Licensing Agency. I was surprised how I felt a void! Serving on that board had taught me so much and kept me so busy with projects and new learning opportunities that when my job there was done, I didn’t know what to do with the extra time. It then occurred to me that my extensive board knowledge may be useful to others so I decided to write a book showcasing what I have learned along the way. I also interviewed 20 people across Canada for additional insights and perspectives. My intent was to write a book that would be useful to anyone currently volunteering on a committee or board of a non-profit organization or association, and also anyone contemplating doing so.
2) The book is loaded with tips and advice for board members – new and old. I certainly learned a lot. What do you think is the most valuable piece of advice for me to pass along to our new board members?
DP: I think the most important thing anyone can learn from reading my book is that it is critical that they find the right volunteer role or opportunity for them. Volunteering will only be meaningful and productive if you are volunteering for an association or a cause for which you hold a deep passion. Research the volunteer opportunities that will be best suited to you. Ask questions before you say yes. Make an informed decision.
3) What advice has been the most valuable for you, in your work on volunteer boards?
DP: The most valuable advice I received was from a fellow volunteer who told me that we do a great disservice to any organization by agreeing to volunteer for them if we don’t really want to. If we don’t have the enthusiasm, passion, knowledge, connections or time to enable us to do the job well, we shouldn’t accept the challenge.
That’s honest advice. Thanks Doreen. Before You Say Yes is available directly from the Dundurn Press website, at bookstores across Canada, and online.
Have you volunteered for a board? What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve received? Please leave a comment, and let’s start a discussion.