Are You a good board member? 6 traits of effective volunteer leaders

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Published work involves contributions from multiple staff members in copywriting and editorial roles, with possible integration of AI technology


You stepped up and took a leadership position as a member of the board for your industry association. That’s fantastic. It’s a great way to contribute to your profession while at the same time expanding your network and skill set.

As a board member, it’s easy to get bogged down in meetings, emails, and committee conference calls. But being busy and being effective are two very different outcomes. How do you know if you’re adding value to the board?

Take a few minutes and review the following six traits of volunteer leaders for associations that are providing strategic direction to position their organizations for the future. How do you compare?

6 traits of Effective Association Board Members 

  1. Focuses on the big picture – The board of directors should be laser-focused on providing a vision for where the association is headed to best support the needs of the membership. Your time should be spent on governance, policy-making, and setting a course for the future. That means leaving day-to-day operational decisions to your association’s paid staff.
  2. Prepares for meetings – Effective board members are self-motivated. They review materials in advance of meetings, understand the issues, have done additional research, and are prepared with questions and suggestions. They want to make decisions during meetings, not just discuss possibilities.
  3. Understand rules of order – Association boards typically employ Robert’s Rules of Order to guide how meetings are run and provide everyone with standard procedures to obtain the floor, make motions, and vote on agenda items. Here’s an overview of Robert’s Rules of Order if you need a refresher.
  4. Actively participates – Board members are most effective when they share their expertise and deliver on action items. They take their commitment to the association seriously and meet deadlines and expectations just like they do in their careers.
  5. Understands legal requirements – Board members must abide by the association’s by-laws and uphold accepted legal principles:
    • Duty of Care requires leaders to use reasonable care and good judgment in making decisions.
    • Duty of Loyalty requires leaders to be faithful to the organization, avoiding conflicts of interest.
    • Duty of Obedience requires leaders to comply with governing documents.
  6. Publicly supports board actions – Board members need to support the decisions made by the group to the membership and positively promote the association’s image in the industry and marketplace.

What to do if you identify improvement opportunities

What’s next if you’ve discovered a few areas where your board participation could be improved? Some traits require a bit of self-reflection to examine how you can better approach your commitment to the board to offer more value. Board members may also benefit from a board evaluation process to help members better assess their performance, and evaluate and re-position goals and processes for guiding the mission and programs of the association.

Training is key 

Boards are filled with people from different backgrounds and levels of experience. Setting expectations for what is required of your association’s board members is best supported by formalized training as you welcome new members. It’s a great way to help people understand their roles on the board, help everyone operate from the same playbook, and empower and motivate members to succeed.



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