What are the keys to having a board that really gets the job done?

Creating and sustaining a dynamic board for a Friends organization is an ongoing process that must be high on everyone’s priority list, because the board of directors holds the primary responsibility for meeting the Friends goals.

Finding Good Board Members

Rather than thinking strategically about how to attract and nurture appropriate leaders, many groups make the mistake of accepting whoever is willing to serve.

  • Understand what qualities the group needs from its leaders. Younger organizations generally need a president who can take charge, while older groups need a president who delegates and acts as a coach.

  • Decide what jobs need to be completed and the specific skills required to complete them.

  • When asking someone to take on a leadership position, make clear exactly what the job entails. Don’t make a task sound harder or easier than it really is.

Well–defined Jobs

The executive team (president, vice president, treasurer, secretary) has specific roles and duties. Other board members also need well–defined jobs. If they are chairing a committee, they may need to identify committee members and find a backup for themselves. Different board members may be in charge of each of the Friends’ major activities or events—bookstore, festival, volunteer appreciation event, etc.

Board members who cannot or will not fulfill their responsibilities should be asked to step down. This creates a culture where members are held accountable and progress toward a vision can be measured.

Ongoing Education

Board members must learn about both their refuge and the larger National Wildlife Refuge System and its place in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Continuous learning can be part of the board culture, with certain meetings or a portion of each meeting devoted to education. This can be provided by a board member who is knowledgeable about a particular area of interest, a refuge staff member or even universities and nonprofit groups that offer workshops on running a successful organization.

Role of the Refuge Staff

While refuge managers and liaisons cannot officially vote on Friends business, they play a key role in Friends meetings. They interpret refuge regulations, identify refuge needs, communicate about ongoing projects and issues and offer guidance to the Friends about how they can best support the refuge. Meeting time can be used to nurture relationships, develop rapport and improve collaboration.

Have Fun

Don’t get bogged down in business. “Tramp around on the refuge,” says Ann Smith, vice president of Friends of Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, LA. “Having fun is critical…this is ‘my’ refuge and it makes me feel grounded…It enriches my life.”

This information is adapted from Soaring Heights: A Guide to Creating a Sustainable Friends/Refuge Collaboration, available online at www.fws.gov/refuges/friends/publications.html.