Unread agendas. Iffy meeting attendance. A sense of disconnect on the board.
These ranked among the challenges facing the Children’s International Learning Centre (CILC) when it sent a team to Capacity Canada’s board governance boot camp in Hamilton earlier this fall.
This week, the organization, which puts together a range of themed children’s programs in the city, earned a place in Capacity’s governance Hall of Fame for the effort it has put into stoking up its board work.
Changes at the CILC included shifting to a consent agenda, assembling a binder to spell out the expectations of board members and launching a rolling three-year strategic plan.
“It feels like we are collaborating a lot more,” board president Olwyn Moxley said in an interview Dec. 1, after boot-camp participants reconvened for graduation. “There is a lot more positive energy and co-operation. People are working toward fulfilling their potential, and wanting to develop their professional leadership qualities.”
The CILC was one of six Hamilton-area organizations from the boot camp Sept. 29-Oct. 1 that reported back on what they had done to improve the performance of their boards. The Cowan Foundation and the United Way Burlington & Greater Hamilton joined Capacity as partners in the Hamilton program.
Moxley and Isabella Marchese, who chairs the CILC’s bylaw committee, mapped out what the organization does — or plans to do — for the “care and feeding” of board members.
It holds how-to sessions to help them fill their roles. The first was a session on Dropbox, a file-sharing platform.
It will use retreats and peer reviews to create an awareness of shared responsibility and accountability for the well-being of the organization. A structured recruitment process fills vacancies on the board. There’s a new emphasis on strategic thinking.
“Board members are now very accepting of the new methods and the new style,’’ Marchese said in an interview. “We don’t have as many surprises. They do come more prepared and more engaged.”
It means more work as a mentor and coach for Lana Lowe, the CILC’s executive director. The board, she said, is more active than it has been in the past.
In addition to a place in the governance Hall of Fame, the CILC received a $5,000 cheque from the Cowan Foundation.
The event Dec. 1 also brought out Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hamilton and Burlington, Brantford Welcome In Resource Centre, Grand River Community Health Centre, and the Graduate Students Association of McMaster University.
For many organizations in the boot camp, collecting need-to-know items in a consent agenda has picked up the pace of meetings and lifted board members out of weedy, operational issues preferably left to staff. It leaves more time for the high-elevation, strategic thinking that boards are supposed to do.
Some boards have welcomed change; others have put up a fight. Transition can be choppy, said Fred Galloway, a member of Capacity’s boot-camp faculty. That, he added, underscores the “value of committed leadership that doesn’t whither under pressure.”