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What's in it for me?

The highs and lows of joining a community group board

Before you join a board or committee, it is important that you are aware of what you're signing up for. Most community group board members will tell you that the personal benefits and rewards most definitely outweigh the sacrifices – at least, they do most of the time. But there will no doubt be some frustrations along the way.

The purpose of this help sheet is not to put you off board service, but rather to ensure you go into it with your eyes opened as widely as possible. And in case you think the challenges are too great, we have provided some links to further information that will put you on the right path  to overcoming those challenges.

The highs

"Personal satisfaction" is a phrase that most often crops up when community group board members are asked what rewards they have obtained as a result of their service. But from where does that satisfaction derive?

Making a difference

There can be few more satisfying experiences than being able to see your goals and vision – and those of your community group – come to fruition. Contributing to the achievement of something you really believe in, making a significant difference to people's lives and helping to achieve a better community brings a form of satisfaction that is unlikely to be equaled in other areas of your professional life.

Exercising power

Joining a not-for-profit board offers an opportunity to play a large part in the decision-making process of a community group. In such a way, board members can have real power over the way their organisation is managed and help to determine the direction in which it is taken.

Gaining new knowledge

The not-for-profit sector is, by its very nature, a lot different from the for-profit sector. Becoming involved in a not-for-profit community group can help you gain a keener appreciation of how such organisations are run, the pressures they operate under and the intrinsic challenges of the sector as a whole. Serving on a board will also give you a valuable insight into current governance standards and issues, which can be of use in many other facets of your life. And being on a board will also give you an in-depth insight into the group you are overseeing and the issues it tackles.

Gaining new skills

Successfully negotiating the challenges of the not-for-profit sector – undertaking fundraising and advocacy tasks, for example – can pose challenges quite distinct from those required in the commercial or government sectors. Learning how to overcome these challenges can allow board members to develop an entirely different and highly useful set of skills. Meeting and working with other talented and motivated people can also lead to a valuable expansion of skills.

Expanding your networks

Many people are invited to join a board because of their particular talents, skills or attributes – and taking a seat alongside them at the board table can allow new board members to benefit from those attributes. Making connections through the development of relationships and friendships with other board members can have long-lasting and positive personal and professional implications.

Putting yourself in context

Often in the day-to-day grind of our work and personal lives, it is easy to lose sight of what skills and expertise you actually have to offer the world. Joining a community group board and contributing to the group's success can lead to a more finely tuned understanding of your own worth – and a realisation that what you have to say is just as important as the views of anyone else.

Being inspired

Most people know the buzz that can come from being part of an effective team. Working with like-minded, dedicated people, not for material gain but for the good of the cause, is another experience opened up to community group board members. That passion, commitment and spirit of generosity can be difficult to find in other arenas.

Being inspired #2

Participating in the community that the board represents also presents immense rewards. Whether you are working for an animal welfare group, a sporting group, a church or a school, serving on the board can put you in contact with people you may not have otherwise encountered. Getting to know your group's stakeholders can be as exhilarating as any other experience you are likely to have.

The lows

No matter how great your board or inspiring your community group, there are bound to be some hiccups along the way. Below we have listed some of the challenges that you may encounter. The good news is that most of these challenges don't have to be endured – they can be cured. Follow the links to additional help sheets that offer some tips on how your group can become more efficient and effective.

Satisfying the bean counters

A not-for-profit organisation that does not have to struggle for funds, at least at times, is a rarity to say the least. The constant challenges of making sure the budgets balance and the community group has enough money to function effectively can be a constant struggle for board members.

The cure? Check out the following help sheet:

Running on empty

Community groups are often short of resources, such as back-up staff and up-to-date computers. This often provides a nasty surprise for people joining a community group board for the first time, particularly those used to the better resourced business sector.

The cure? Check out the following help sheet:

Running against the clock

Most community group board members are volunteers squeezing their board duties in between a myriad of other commitments. Coping with time constraints – both their own and those of people they are relying on to help get the job done – can present a real challenge for board members.

The cure? Check out the following help sheets:

Playing Mr Nice Guy

Community groups can sometimes be seen (unhelpfully) in a warm, fuzzy light. Board members are often motivated to join a board by altruism and a belief in the group's mission. Their commitment is usually highly appreciated. Unfortunately, this can also have the consequence of consideration overriding efficiency, and sloppy work being tolerated when it shouldn't be. Similarly, because they are almost always unpaid, community group board members can sometimes be hesitant to make decisions that will affect the long-term future of their group. Many struggle to resist the urge to be too soft or optimistic, when a hard-nosed, reality-based decision is actually what is required.

The cure? Check out the following help sheets:

Another one bites the dust

It is an unfortunate reality of most community groups that board membership is in a constant state of flux. While some change in composition is healthy for a board, having to regularly organise replacements, update new members and adapt to a changing board culture can be frustrating at times.

The cure? Check out the following help sheets:

Lack of motivation

To be effective, a board must operate as a team. While keeping yourself a motivated and focused part of the team can sometimes be a challenge, board members also sometimes have to deal with lack of motivation among colleagues. Getting people to pull their weight and support the activities of the board and the community group can at times be an uphill battle.

The cure? Check out the following help sheets:

Assessing effectiveness

When the bottom line is not the last word in the success of your community group, what is? A lack of clear measures of success can be frustrating for some community group board members, particularly in the early stages as they adapt to the new culture.

The cure? Check out the following help sheets:

Personality clash

Boards are composed of people and people have personalities – some of them challenging. The sometimes frustrating realities of human interaction do not stop when you enter a board meeting; indeed, they are often amplified by it.

The cure? Check out the following help sheets:

The road ahead

Just because you're headed to the same place as your board colleagues doesn't mean you will all agree about how to get there. Conflicting views are inevitable.

The cure? Check out the following help sheets:

Navel gazing

Sometimes boards focus more on discussing their role than on actually making decisions. Although thinking about what you're doing is important, it can be frustrating – not to mention detrimental to the organisation – if this occurs at the expense of actually getting things done.

The cure? Check out the following help sheets:

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