By Angela Carter, with permission from Calypso Communications

I recently was asked to participate in a local, non-profit, education-focused board of directors. I was thrilled at the opportunity to make a difference in my own community; after all, education—from funding to curriculum—is a problem in greater New England, heck, throughout the country.

At first blush, I was impressed by the list of board members all involved in moving this non-profit’s mission forward. The board already secured a significant funding donation, is planning a large event to continue its fundraising, and has begun delivering its mission—all good. Right?

After my first meeting, it was clear. Not all those at the table were on the same page with regard to the organizational message and priorities or individual board member roles and responsibilities. They agreed upon and understood the mission, but differed in opinions on how to achieve the mission. In my opinion, the board was composed largely of visionaries, with only one or two do-ers.

I work with many non-profit boards, some highly functioning, others only serving in an advisory role. In the beginning stages of either type of board, it is critical to get the members and staff working together with a clear understanding of expectations

I like Kathy Bremer’s comprehensive outline on the Seven Habits of a Highly Functioning Board. In it, she clearly itemizes good habits for boards to adopt.

She starts by getting the board members invested and finishes with a call for consistent reviews of documents, systems, policies, and even members. What I like most, the habits appeal to dual personalities, do-ers, and thinkers.

The do-ers—the results-driven folks—are given clear steps on moving to action with goal setting, mapping, plan development. Meanwhile, the habits allow visionaries time to reflect and put on their creative thinking caps, moving away from the day-to-day and focusing on the future.

Do you participate on a non-profit board of directors? What do you find critical?