What I Learned as a Guinea Pig in Las Vegas

We’d like to welcome guest blogger Claire Doherty to the Volunteer Victoria blog! Claire is a board member with the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS), and has worked and volunteered for a wide variety of non-profit organizations. She wrote this blog post about attending our recent Board Q&A Sessions in February, 2012.

Image credit to www.bootifultings.blogspot.ca

I am a newbie board member, having been elected to the board of the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) in July 2011. I have learned a lot about my duties from my fellow VIRCS board members, but it is always helpful to know where to turn for further guidance.

My first board member education session was “Serving on a Board”, hosted by Volunteer Victoria’s Emerging Leaders’ Network. The presenter recommended that we attend “Boot Camp for Board Members”,  a two-day workshop that the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce historically offered in March each year.

In January, I discovered that “Boot Camp for Board Members” had been replaced, in part, by four Board Q&A Sessions hosted by Volunteer Victoria on Tuesday evenings in February. At $15 a piece, these sessions seemed like a good deal, and I was able to attend them after work. I managed to register for each of them just before the 15 spaces filled up.

Each session started with Lisa Mort-Putland, the Executive Director of Volunteer Victoria, welcoming us. She told us that we were guinea pigs, as Volunteer Victoria was just starting to experiment with providing board member education in this format. She also informed us that “Las Vegas Rules” applied; with respect to anything anyone shared about their own board: what was said in the room would stay in the room.

Having attended all four Board Q&A Sessions, I am a happy guinea pig and I consider the experiment a great success. I promise to abide by Vegas Rules and not tell anyone which presenter incorporated an Elvis impersonation into his session…just kidding, that never happened…although I might put it in the suggestion box for next year.

Here are some of the lessons I learned at each session…

Session #1: Strategic Planning and the Board’s Role in Monitoring Organizational Performance
Presenter: Patti Hunter, Principal, The Benchmark Group

– Four stages of strategic planning:
 1. Situation analysis: taking stock of the general characteristics and status of the organization, such as budget, number of staff, number of members and number of clients.
2. Environmental scan: includes an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).
3. Planning priorities: setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, resourced and time-lined (SMART); and identifying strategies to achieve them.
4. Measurement and monitoring: build this  into board meeting agendas.

– Each board needs to choose whether to follow a program model or a policy model.

– The Policy Governance Model was developed by John Carver. If your board chooses to use it, adopt all of the principles. Do not try to pick and choose among them. See www.carvergovernance.com

– In the Carver policy model, board policies fit into one of four quadrants:
1. Board self-governance
2. Board relationship with executive director
3. Mission, vision, outcomes
4. Management constraints

Session #2: Avoiding the Dysfunctional Board
Presenter: Dr. Jim Ricks, a retired psychologist who has served on many non-profit boards

(My boyfriend did not understand why I was so keen to attend a session on dysfunctional boards on Valentine’s Day, but he did let me schedule our romantic dinner for later in the evening!)

– A functional board requires clarity of roles, expectations and boundaries.

– If something is wrong in your board, ask yourself how you are contributing to the problem.

– Sometimes asking intelligent questions about a problem is more helpful than giving direct advice about it.

– Most of this session involved discussing real-world examples of board challenges so Vegas Rules apply.

Session #3: The Structure, Governance, and Operation of Incorporated Societies – It Works Differently than Most Societies Think it Does
Presenter: Donald Golob, Principal, Donald Golob Consulting

– You need to understand the BC Society Act, which is available here: www.bclaws.ca/EPLibraries/bclaws_new/document/ID/freeside/00_96433_01

-An incorporated society in BC is a non-profit organization registered with BC Registry Services.

– A Canadian charity is registered with the Canada Revenue Agency, and is generally an incorporated society as well.

– Be aware of the following hierarchy:
1. BC Society Act and other laws, such as privacy, tax and labour laws.
2. Society’s constitution, which is like a birth certificate.
3. Society’s by-laws, which can only be changed at a general meeting of the members.
4. Society’s policies, which can be changed at a board meeting.

– It is important to know when to seek legal advice, which is available to non-profit organizations for free through organizations such as the Access Pro Bono Society of BC: www.accessprobono.ca/node/97

Session #4: Igniting your Entrepreneurial Mindset – Social Enterprises and More!
Presenters: Christy Anderson and Susan Low of Directis Consulting

– According to the Canadian Social Enterprise Guide, “social enterprises are businesses operated by non-profits with the dual purpose of generating income by selling a product or service in the marketplace and creating a social, environmental or cultural value.”

– There are three types of social enterprise models:
1. Employment development enterprises
2. Mission-based businesses
3. Ancillary or asset-based businesses

– Starting and maintaining social enterprises takes a lot of time and effort, and the legal framework surrounding them is evolving. Use the resources available to you, such as:
• www.enterprisingnonprofits.ca
• www.centreforsocialenterprise.com

Thanks again to Claire for writing this great recap of the Board Q&A Sessions! And don’t forget to mark your calendars for our full-day Board Governance 101 workshop coming up in Victoria on June 13, 2012. Registration for this event will be open soon at www.volunteervictoria.eventbrite.ca.

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