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Community Action Agency Board Members Toolkit in a Nutshell

CHAPTER ELEVEN. Board Development: Preparing an Individual Development Plan for a Board Member

This involves a slightly different set of issues than preparing an IDP for a staff person. Board members are usually recruited because (1) they have some specific skill (lawyer, housing expert, personnel manager) or because (2) they are part of a constituency or (3) can represent a community or (4) they can represent a specific institution. Sometimes, a person who is committed to your mission or your agency is recruited for the board and THEN they are helped to obtain the knowledge and skills needed to perform a board role. So you can either recruit a person or “grow” a person to do a specific CAA board function. 

There are dozens of generic workbooks for nonprofit boards that describe board members responsibilities for planning, fundraising and fiscal oversight, accountability to stakeholders, evaluating the executive director, etc. There are courses at community colleges, management support centers and through associations on “how to be a board treasurer” or “parliamentary procedure.”  These offer an inexpensive way for board members to improve their ability to carry out a specific role or assignment. 

For a description of individual board member roles and what a board member needs to know about a CAA, we commend your attention to the Community Action Partnership Board Manual. This used to be a stand-alone manual and now has been reduced to a chapter in the CAA Executives Handbook. This will help you identify the particular area/s or topics on which an individual board member may want to initiate self-improvement. These board materials help CAA Board members to understand the scope, complexity and developmental history of what a CAA is and does. Most of this information can be absorbed in one reading or in a one-day workshop that provides an overview of CAAs and their history. Individuals may choose to help the CAA Board by focusing on one or more of its internal functions. A few of the key areas listed in the Board Manual are listed here:

·   Leadership (officers, committee chairs)
·  Internal structure and operations; e.g., by-laws
·  Nominating, recruiting new members
·   Planning
·   Personnel
·  Finance
·  Public relations, community relations
·   Staff and board development

Board members may want to specialize in one or more of the strategies that CAAs use to bring about change in the community:

 ·  Community organization and development
Program coordination
 ·  Program development/implementation/oversight/monitoring
 ·  Advocacy, influence public policy
 ·  Solving specific community problems
 ·  Resource mobilization
 ·  Outreach, information and referral, case management
 ·  Direct social services

All of these are areas where individual performance can be improved through self-study, participating on other boards, classroom training, or mentoring by other board members. Finding out what the individual wants to do is very important. As volunteers, if they don't enjoy doing it and don't want to do it, either they won't do it at all or they won't do it for long.

Boards have the ability to work with each other as a group, as a team. Boards of small CAAs almost never receive training in “effective teamwork.”  Instead, “the way we do things around here” and other traditional modes of operation are passed on from the old board members to the new members, who are “socialized” into the board's existing approaches. The new member usually has a difficult time in learning the jargon of the programs. It takes a year or two for them to learn the vocabulary and acronyms associated with the programs -- during which time they usually slip unconsciously into the existing social structure. This may or may not be desirable.

Where a board already has a long-term vision, is aggressive and enjoys effective board operations, you want new people to “join the team.”  If the board is stodgy, micro-managing day-to- day operations, or dominated by one or two people then it may be desirable to change the way the board operates. This can almost never be done simply by sending one or two board members off to a training session. Large changes have to be done with the entire board in the room.

What can be accomplished by training one or two board members off site is to show them “there is a better way.”  They will then have to convince others that change is needed. This “vision building” for an individual through their IDP can serve as a catalyst for change, but it is neither the method nor the sum total of change. Having one or two board members get fired up about the need for change is a necessary condition, but it is not a sufficient condition. This change has to be carried out with the entire board in the room, going through a developmental process. The typical reasons why boards get hung up are described in Chapter 7, as are some of the methods that can be used to initiate corrective action.

The “deductive” approach would be to build a list of all possible tasks and capacities for a board then check off which ones that individual will focus on and how you will help them improve. The “inductive approach” would start with the individual and their interests and list the specifics. An example of the latter type of a Board Member Individual Development Plan is given here. 

The Board member can take the lead in developing their own plan, or it can be done in conjunction with one or more other board members, and/or the Executive Director. Similarly, the approvals of the plan will vary depending on its content and cost to the agency.


Board Member Individual Development Plan (Draft format)

BOARD MEMBER NAME:  F. Smith                             Date: tomorrow, 200x

FOR PERIOD: May 1, 200x to April 30, 200y







1. Learn five new member recruitment methods.

United Way workshop

Aug, 200x

2. Bring back and implement six new ways we can use to publicize our CAA success stories

CAP Annual meeting

Sep, 200x

CAA will pay registration cost and travel for # 1-2.


3. Learn how different sectors in community and on tri-partite board can work together

Attend workshop on Diversity and Partnerships at CAA Association Meeting

Fall, 200x





4. Learn more about the history and mission of CAAs.

Attend workshop at CAP Conference

Sep, 200x

5. Learn to apply community problem-solving methods

Meet with staff.
Report to planning committee, select two  problems.
Get board approval.
Initiate action.

May, 200x


_______________________________       ________________________
      Board Member /date                                      Board Chair/date

(Optional) Executive Director/date

  A. Purposes of Board Meetings
1. To hear about progress in the achievement of the various objectives of the organization.
2. To hear reports of Board committees and to make policy decisions, where required, based on committee reports.
3. To make policy decisions.
4. To inspire Board members toward greater service.
5. To provide a vehicle for Board members to meet Board members, and for Board members to meet staff.
6. To maintain control over the organization and to give guidance to committees.
7. To legitimatize.
8. To communicate.
9. To coordinate.
10. To organize.
11. To plan.
12. To meet legal requirements for Board meetings.

Adapted from Conrad, William R. and William R. Glenn, The Effective Voluntary Board of Directors, Chicago:  Swallow Press.

B. Developing an Agenda

An agenda is a list of things to be accomplished -- it provides an order of business for the group. In a way, its like having a map because it shows you where you must begin, what tasks you must complete, and where you will end up. Meetings that are run without agendas are likely to stray, last forever, or waste a lot of time. 

A typical agenda format follows:


Executive Board Meeting

____________________ Agency

__________, 2003

1. Call to order and opening ceremonies.
2. Roll call.
3. Reading of the minutes and their approval.
4. Treasurer's report.
5. Standing committee reports.
6. Ad Hoc committee reports.
7. Unfinished business.
8. New or postponed business.
9. Acknowledgment of visitors for remarks.
10. Set date for next meeting and adjournment.

If the group follows this sort of agenda, business may be conducted out of order only when the group votes to suspend the rules. Four methods of building an agenda follow.


 METHOD #1: Leader built

The first method sees the leader (perhaps the chairperson or the chairperson in cooperation with the Executive Director and staff) build the agenda. The leader identifies what topics will be confronted and assigns these topics to an order or sequence. The leader also may assign time limits to the topics on the agenda.

METHOD #2: Group Input - Leader built

The second method follows a similar format; however, it is developed somewhat differently. This process seeks input from some or all board members. Usually, a deadline is set, and topics must be submitted by that date.

      The leader then creates an actual agenda listing the order of business and all topics to be discussed. The leader assigns priorities. And, if it's the group's custom, the leader assigns time limits (limits of debate of discussion) for each topic. Essentially, the format would be the same as or similar to the format described in Method #1.

METHOD #3: Group built

A third method departs from tradition significantly in that it is totally democratic and totally a product of the total group effort. In this instance, the leader and group members built an agenda together on the night of and at the beginning of the Board meeting. Naturally, some tasks (reading of the minutes, for example) are routine so only the main part or “meat” of the agenda is developed.

            In this case, the leader lists all of the topics suggested by anyone in the group on a chalkboard or large piece of news­print. When everyone is satisfied that all pertinent topics have been identified, the group then ranks the topics in the order of their intended discussion and budgets the amount of time to be spent on each item.

METHOD #4: Public Agencies

CAAs have rules that apply to public bodies in terms of how items get on the agenda, and some items must be considered over two meetings, etc. in California these are spelled out in the Brown Act.

C. Checklist for Leading a Meeting




1. Were members notified about the meeting time, place, and topic?



2. Was an agenda prepared or planned?



3. Are the physical arrangements adequate?



4. Will seating arrangements encourage listening and discussion?



5. Were staff members, experts, or community leaders invited as needed?



6. Is there factual or background material available?



7. Are visual aids available and in place?



8. Is something planned to break the ice before the meeting starts (coffee, a group exercise, etc.)?







9.  Did I announce the agenda topics?



10a. Was my introduction too long?



10b. Was my introduction relevant and to the point?



10c. Was my introduction adequately informative?



11. Did I toss the discussion ball to the group?



12a. Did I control the order of the meeting by following the agenda?



12b. Did I control the order of the meeting by recognizing members who wished to speak?



12c. Did I control the order of the meeting by using parliamentary procedure?



12d. Did I control the order of the meeting by insisting that members stick to the issue at hand?



12e. Did I control the order of the meeting by preventing a few people from dominating the meeting?



13a. Did I keep the discussion moving by allowing sufficient time for each topic?



13b. Did I keep the discussion moving by pointing out repetitions or digressions?



13c. Did I keep the discussion moving by clarifying confusing points?



13d. Did I keep the discussion moving by bridging ideas together?



13e. Did I keep the discussion moving by pointing out differences of opinion?



13f. Did I keep the discussion moving by drawing out quiet members?



13g. Did I keep the discussion moving by redirecting questions to other group members?



13h. Did I keep the discussion moving by expressing appreciation for individual contributions?



14a. Were my leadership techniques aimed at bringing out reasons, opinions, and causes?



14b. Were my leadership techniques designed to bring out and tolerate all shades of opinions?



14c. Were my leadership techniques presented objectively and without bias?



14d. Were my leadership techniques brief, timely, and to the point?



14e. Were my leadership techniques fair and tactful with all members?



15a. When I put a motion to a vote or made a summary of the discussion, did I cover all the points agreed upon?



15b. When I put a motion to a vote or made a summary of the discussion, did I state the full motion?



15c. When I put a motion to a vote or made a summary of the discussion, did I point out both sides (benefits, issues, disadvantages) of the question?



15d. When I put a motion to a vote or made a summary of the discussion, did I point out the consequences?







16. Was the meeting attended by all members?



17.  Did the members arrive on time?



18. Did the individuals work as a group?



19. Was the contribution of each member recognized and evaluated?



20. Were the conflicts resolved into a common understanding?



21. Were issues approached with an open mind?



22. Were possible solutions checked?



23. Were any important aspects overlooked?



24. Was much time wasted?



25. Were personal interactions cooperative and in keeping with each member's worth and dignity?



26. Did everyone leave with a clear understanding of their “homework assignments” or other responsibilities?



27. What conclusions did the group reach?









28. What could I have done better?








  D. Group Decision Making

(Adapted from Robert Balke's Formulations)

  Groups make decisions in many ways. Some are better than others.

1. Decision by Lack of Response (“The Plop”)
  The floor of many group meeting rooms is completely covered by ideas, statements, motions, etc., that have “plopped.”  Someone has proposed something, and this has been followed by discussions, other proposals, more ideas, perhaps some argument, then more suggestions, until, finally, the group settles on one it will act on. All the others have simply been bypassed in a common decision not to support them, making the proposers feel that their suggestions have “plopped.”  In this process, endurance and persistence can prevail!
2. Decision by Authority Rule
  Many groups set up a power structure or start with a power structure in which one person (occasionally a small group) makes the decisions. All the others in the body, meeting, board, committee, etc., can and do contribute to ideas, suggestions, recommendations, discussions, but stop short of making the actual decision (selection of one of the ideas) and look to the authority person or small group to determine the final step. This process is usually more rapid, and may actually be more efficient (in terms of the group's energy input versus the output). However, quite often the group discovers that none of its ideas, etc., is selected, and something quite different is opted for by the authority person (chairperson, leader, president, etc.). This usually causes problems when the group faces the implementa­tion phase of the decision it did not help choose. The group must be aware ahead of time of this potential consequence of the authority-rule decision-making method. This process is often seen at work when a larger group or board allows the “Executive Committee” to make final decisions in the interest of expediency, or because of geography, or some other obstacle.
3. Decision by Minority
Feeling “railroaded” into making a decision is one of the most common complaints of group/board members. One person can “railroad” a decision by preempting the buildup of opposition to his or her idea/s. A small group, no more than 3 individuals, can be very effective in controlling the discussion in a larger group. Quite often individual's silence in a public gathering is construed as consent or acquiescence, even agreement. When questioned later in private, many individuals will state their opposition to the “railroaded” action, or at least express com­plaints about the tough, organized, sometimes “strong-arm” tactics, but the decision stands. When objection is actually voiced, you will hear:  “Everyone had a chance to speak up. You did, too!  You could have disagreed.”  The trap is the assumption that silence is consent.
4. Decision by Majority Rule:  Voting and/or Polling
  This method is the most familiar primarily because it reflects our political system. In its simplest form, each individual opinion is sought after an agreed-to period of discussion, often on the pros and cons of an idea, either in an informal poll, or in a more formal process of asking for votes for, votes against, and abstentions. On the surface, this method, which we so often take for granted as the only way to proceed, but there are consequences that the group should consider.
   a.  The process itself creates two groups:  those for something and those against it. This has a tendency, when repeated often, to form coalitions; the Winners and the Losers. The Winners are preoccupied with what they won. The Losers become preoccupied with winning the next confrontation. A Board meeting turns into an athletic contest.
  b. The Losers come to feel misunderstood, incapable and resentful. Majority members (The Winners) grow to feel increasingly capable of conducting the group's business (without the Losers). They also grow in power.
It is possible for a group or Board of 25 members, who only require 13 present to constitute a quorum, to be ruled by a majority (Winners) of 7, thereby leaving 6 minority (Losers) and 12 others wondering what happened.
5. Decision by Consensus
  This is probably the most effective group decision-making method. It is also the most time-consuming. It is important to note that consensus is not the same thing as unanimity. Consensus does not demand that everyone in the group agree. It does require that everyone have a full opportunity to express their real (no hidden agendas!) feelings about an issue, accept that each has had an effect on an ultimate decision, avoid formal protocols (vote taking, roll calls) and test the “Sense of the meeting.”  When it appears that most favor a particular alterna­tive, and those who oppose it accept that they have had a fair opportunity to influence the others, then a consensus exists. It is a psychological state that can be expressed as follows:  “I know how most of you feel about the issue and what you would like to do about it. I personally would not do that, and I feel that you understand what my alternative would be. I have had sufficient opportunity to sway you to my point of view but clearly have not been able to do it.  Therefore, in the interest of the group, I will go along with what most of you want to do.”  This attitude is a commitment not to act negatively or attempt to sabotage the implementation phase of the decision. Again, it is the most time-consuming process, but a group that has learned to function this way is the more effective than majority rule.
6. Decision by Unanimous Consent
  This method is the most perfect of all decision-making methods, and the most difficult to attain. Unanimous consent means everyone truly agrees on the course of action to be taken by the group. The group itself must decide when, and in what kinds of issues, matters, situations it would require unanimous consent. Most often, it is not necessary to achieve unanimous consent in order to conduct a group's business effectively, and it would have a tendency to be highly inefficient. There are goals that groups can get unanimous consent for, but most often the problems arise over how the goals are to be achieved. Because a group can achieve unanimous consent for a specific goal, it must not assume that unanimity (or even consent) will last throughout the whole process of reaching that goal.

E. The Community Services Block Grant Act of 1981

  For the complete text of the Community Services Block Grant Act of 1981, please direct your browser to:

Chapter Eleven Quiz

1. What are some of the reasons why a person is recruited to be on your board?
2. Identify at least two areas in which it is possible for a board member to improve their knowledge or skills.
3. Individual skills can be developed off-site, but for the board to work better as a team, or to improve the whole board,  who should receive the training -- an individual or the whole board?
4. What is the purpose of an Individual Development Plan?
5. List three things you would like to have in your personal Individual Development Plan.

Answers to Chapter 11 Quiz

1. A few possible reasons are:  (1) they have some specific skill (lawyer, housing expert, personnel manager) or because (2) they are part of a constituency or (3) can represent a community or (4) they can represent a specific institution. There may be others.
2. Examples include: functions of the board or specific anti-poverty strategies. (See list)
3. To help the whole board work better or work more effectively as a team, the whole board should be present to learn how to do this.
4. An Individual Development Plan describes how one person will acquire knowledge or skills they need to improve their performance.
5. Your list!

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