If you’ve been tracking with me for any length of time, you know that I’ve been on a passionate roll to bring some clarity in the area of board governance, especially since taking a board governance class (master’s level) this past year.
If you’re new to my blog and journey, here is a recap of my Governance Series to date:
Boards, if they are responsible for a large number of things, will need assistance. Usually, administrative aid comes to the board via the hiring of a Board Assistant. On some boards this may be a volunteer position while on others it is a paid position. Whichever the case, here are some important things to know.
Board Assistants should sign and be bound by both a Confidentiality Agreement and a Code of Conduct. Why does this matter? It matters because they are privy to confidential information and they are associated with (seen as a part of) the particular board they are assisting. And for an assistant, it is important to note that a signed Confidentiality Agreement endures past your time of employment (whether you quit or your position was terminated).
So how does that play out? It means that while you are and were functioning as the Board Assistant, any information you had access to is still off limits to your friends or other members of the moral ownership. How you behave post your term as a Board Assistant, or on any committee for that matter, will be noticed by others and may have damaging effects for you if you are found to be of questionable character, careless with your words, and are misusing confidential information.
Of critical importance is that the assistant should understand that they are there to assist. They are there to provide much-needed support to the board as a whole. Their role is super, super important in helping a board maintain effective and efficient rhythms.
Some of the ways they assist the board are by ensuring communication is sent out in a timely fashion, regularly updating the Board Policy Manual and seeing to it that the directors continually have access to the most currently approved policies, attentiveness in recording board meeting minutes, preparing documents for the board and any necessary documents that need to be signed by the Chair, and reminding the board executive of important deadlines. In some active boards, the Board Assistant also helps plan a Chair’s schedule. Here is an example job description.
Now, what are they not there to do? They are not there to push the agenda of one or more individuals either on the board or as part of the moral ownership. They are not there to direct the board or question their decisions. They may ask clarifying questions to accurately understand and record the conclusions the board has just arrived at or the information they want to be communicated, but they are not the Chair or Chief Governing Officer of the board. Therefore, just like board members are to be carefully selected, so, too, should a Board Assistant.
Several years ago I had the privilege of working with a highly competent Board Assistant. She knew her role well. And not only did she know her role well, she also had a tremendous institutional memory as she and her family had been part of the founding families of the non-profit organization. In addition to that, she had four essential characteristics that made her stand out for me. She was humble, knowledgeable, teachable, and resilient. Given the complex nature of her role, she was able to work collaboratively with the board, was able to engage with the diverse personalities of the board, and was able to add value in tremendous ways because she had a good handle on policy governance and how she could assist the board in achieving its goals.
If you ever have any questions about board governance or have some insightful resources you’re willing to share, please let me know.
Wishing you a healthy board experience!
The Reverend Carmen Kampman