Webster’s Dictionary defines the word essential as, “of the utmost importance.”
If you are like me, you have a lot of things in your life that you consider essential... some of mine are mornings on my front porch with my Bible, sunshine (preferably on a beach), and relationships—old, new, strong, budding, family, or strangers. Add a cup of coffee outside and I’m good for hours!
As pregnancy center personnel, there are things considered essential to your specific work as well - but these things don't always come intuitively. This is often most true for board members! After all, board members typically are not chosen for their skill at "board membering," but rather other areas of expertise, connection, or ministry they bring to the table. This means board members, especially new ones, know there are essential things they must do, but won't necessarily know what they are or how best to do them. One of the most common questions I hear from board members is, “What do I do? What does my role encompass?”
If you're a board member asking this question, one of the best places to find the answer is your center’s bylaws and Board Policy Manual. Here you will find direction that will guide you towards understanding your role as a board member along with some key board responsibilities, including officer duties, committee job descriptions, as well as your spiritual, ethical and fiduciary responsibilities. Taking a good long look at your center’s mission and vision statements and Organization Chart are also excellent steps towards clarifying, knowing, and fulfilling board roles and responsibilities.
Each of these essential areas includes a whole host of specific information. Take finances for example. A key aspect of pregnancy center board work is having a clear understanding of the financial status and progress of the organization's funding and donor development. While much of the responsibility falls on those on the Finance Committee and the Board Treasurer, all board members should know how to speak into general financial oversight, fundraising, financial planning and budgeting. Additionally, board members should have a working understanding of financial reports, policies and procedures for banking, book keeping and record keeping and the control of fixed assets and stock. This information often isn’t intuitive however, so it is paramount that board members ask clarifying questions and work towards understanding such matters.
Often the most important “essential” for a pregnancy center board member is clear and effective communication. Board members are presented with many opportunities that call for clear communication - for example, you may likely be asked to share your passion for the work at a church or community group, provide clear notes following a committee meeting, or simply express your thoughts and ideas in regular Board meetings. An often overlooked aspect of communication, however, is learning to hear others first. Listening to your fellow board members with open hearts and minds, and pursuing unity even in heated discussions and dissent are essential to the health of the organization you love and serve.
If you're thinking, "I get what we're supposed to do, but how does my board get there?" you're not alone. In the 11 years I’ve been training pregnancy center boards, I’ve found there can be a disconnect between knowing what these essentials are and being able to effectively put them into practice in specific situations. This is why I’m so excited to be one of the facilitators for Care Net’s online Board Essentials course. This course leads your board collectively through everything you need to know and do in order to lead your center with excellence - from why and how to develop a strategic plan, to holding productive meetings and providing excellent executive oversight. During this course, boards will have the opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level and receive personalized help along the way from your board trainer.