Few people would deny that communication is a good thing offering benefit to all who practice it faithfully. Communicating in the context of board membership is paramount and goes further than a meeting reminder or notice of action assignments based on board decisions. The more mundane, yet important, aspects of communication keep the board and institution executives informed concerning important national, local, and institutional issues avoiding surprises which never impress anyone. Active communication also serves to inform of progress on projects undertaken by sub-committees, faculty and staff, and volunteers. While the board is not managing these projects they do appreciate updates which indicate progress, growth, and institutional advancement. All of this is central to strengthening the institution as well as the board.
Communication more specifically related to board success is that from the "Audit Committee," the "keeper" of the policy handbook. It should be expected to be thorough and plain spoken. In order to avoid confusion and provide clarity of function, the "audit committee" has nothing to do with institutional finance, but everything to do with the examination and auditing of individual board member's performance.
Assuming that a thorough orientation for each elected affiliate has taken place, the work of the "audit committee" then becomes much easier. You see, after orientation each member knowingly accepts their responsibility and position, including the special reasons for their appointment. Considering this, then evaluation, counseling, encouraging, and dismissing can be accomplished without confusion regarding the reason. The work of this important committee, evaluating and reviewing the board as a whole and in part, should be carried out annually. This function is central to the "trinity" of board strength and success.
Arriving on assignment at a 30 year old university, I discovered that the board had never been evaluated. One year later such an audit did take place, but in a perfunctory fashion and no effect was noticed anywhere. Much of this was because of what could best be described as the dictatorial management style of the university president and a board total "yes men." This board was not a functioning board and in hind-sight, the major contributor to my difficulty finding success.
While outsiders may assist the "audit committee," self-assessment is most effective. A third party may be helpful in establishing the paradigm for evaluation, but self-assessment encourages, maybe even forces, openness of communication strengthening relationships. The impact of such an activity will promote personal and plenary improvement and effectiveness will result from this aspect of working on the weakness and strengths which are discovered.
As board members our task is daunting! We must work hard to be effective and not be troubled or fearful. The words of our Lord Jesus, found in John 14, should be encouraging to Christians who serve this capacity, "Peace I leave with you. Not as the world gives do I give. Let not your heart neither be troubled nor let it be fearful."
Let me suggest four questions, essentially all very similar, but with nuance, concerning board effectiveness. I use a mnemonic device here to aid ease of remembering, and offer more direct communication.
1. Does your board RATE? Is each board members Role understood, Assignment fostering cohesion, Taking advantage of information regularly communicated, and Evaluated annually?
2. Is your board remarkably FAST? Is each board member Functioning well, Accessible to institutional leadership, Securing reports which are helpful, and Talking about significant advancement?
3. Is your board in the RACE? Is the board Rising to its mission, Actively engaged, Communicating as a common practice, and Emulating professionalism?
4. Is the board a RARE board? Is the board Ready for action, Actively seeking improvement, Repeating the mission statement at each board meeting and Effective as possible?
Finally, let me return to scripture to embolden courage, "board courage." Our service can be as painful, fearful, and discouraging as that experienced by the Apostle Paul whose words I encourage for your consideration. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of sound mind."