Friday, April 30, 2010

Volunteer with your eyes open

I've joined oodles of organizations in my life, most of them because I have believed in the issue or cause. Never did I engage in the kind of pre-joining scrutiny, however, that Doreen Pendgracs outlines in her new book: Before You Say Yes...A guide to the pleasures and pitfalls of volunteer boards. I've recently reconnected with Doreen (we worked together in the early 90s) and am happy to offer this review of her book:

Before you say yes....A Guide to the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards
By Doreen Pendgracs
Published by Dundurn Press 2010

This 145-page guide to membership on volunteer boards is a gem. Open it to any page and you’ll find something of value: a quick & simple guide to Roberts Rules of Order; a checklist of what makes for an effective board meeting; tips on how to best embrace virtual meeting technology; suggestions for how to be an effective board member; a chart of motivators that can drive people’s actions; how to consider – and manage – the risk & liability you have as a director of an organization...and more.

Doreen Pendgracs’ central message is important: If you’re serious about contributing to an organization (for free!), then take the process of committing to that organization as a board member as seriously as you would consider taking on a job. It’s about matching your skills and objectives with the organization’s needs and it’s about making sure that you mesh with the organization’s culture. Too often, we join a board because our skills match their needs, but we forget to consider whether (or not) we’ll “fit” with the culture and the obligations inherent in board membership.

The structure of the book is reader friendly: Each chapter opens with a brief recap of the previous chapter and a short overview of the current chapter. This keeps the content clear in the reader’s mind and makes it really easy to dip into the book here and there yet sill know exactly how the current chapter is framed. That’s intelligent planning on the author’s part.

The text is broken up with numerous useful graphic elements – checklists, tables, charts, etc., which make the layout very inviting. Pendgracs has included lots of references and resources for further reading and research – very helpful for those of us who can get lost on today’s overloaded information highway! And she explains many terms that are often tossed around the boardroom table without explanation – fiduciary responsibility, for example.

Written in a friendly, engaging style, the book is a compilation of the author’s own experience on boards and the experience of people she has met over her 25 years of volunteering. Pendgracs doesn’t have all the answers – how could any one person or book claim that? – but she certainly covers a lot of topics, including backroom politicking and dealing with difficult people. Anyone contemplating joining a board – or wondering why they are still contributing to a board but getting nothing from the experience – will benefit from reading this book.