09 March 2007

Thoughts on stewardship

Those who've been reading for a bit pr'bly know that last summer, after having served on the HCWR Board for just six months, I was elected President (I swear I talked about this here, but I can't find an entry on it.. hrm.. maybe you don't know this?) after our then-President was reassigned to another parish by her Bishop mid-year. This was in no way any sort of overwhelming statement about my abilities - it was simply that I was the only regularly attending Board member left who wasn't already an officer. While the Vice President would normally have stepped up, the woman in that role had stated unequivocally that due to other projects she was engaged in at work she did not feel she could serve as President. She assured me, though, that she felt she would be able to step up to fill the role at the turn of the new year when the next full round of Board Officer elections was scheduled.

Two or three months after I was elected, the Executive Director of the agency for the past 14 years decided to pursue a new opportunity and I was suddenly President of a Board of Directors faced with replacing a much-loved and admired Executive Director. While I can claim none of the credit, we managed to mount a successful regional search and hired a new ED before the end of the calendar year. We celebrated our annual meeting by paying tribute to the outgoing ED, introducing our incoming ED, and welcoming no fewer than 7 new members to our Board of Directors, more than doubling the size of the Board from the previous year.

Due to the transition in ED and the comparative new-ness of a large portion of the Board, the Board elected to postpone new officer elections until our April meeting. This allowed the remaining members of the Board - all officers by necessity - to work as an Executive Team with the new ED through the first few months of the transition period while the newer members of the Board learned more about the agency and our responsibilities as a Board for a non-profit agency. It also allowed me to take some initiative to craft the new, larger board into the body that I felt we should be in order to best serve the agency by establishing an updated committee structure and making some changes to regular Board meetings that will allow the committees to meet as part of the regular Board meeting time each month, a move that I hope means our committees will be more viable and productive.

I've been on the fence about the April elections. Part of me knows all too well that I'm not prepared for the role of Board President - I'm comparatively new to the area and not at all well connected within the community we serve; while I'm grounded in domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy principles, the vast majority of my work in the field has occurred in much larger cities with inbedded infrastructure such as public transportation and multiple emergency shelters, not in the considerably more rural environment HCWR serves; and I'm facing another uncertain year of expectations in my day job, with 5 of the top 7 administrative positions currently held by interim appointments, including my direct supervisor.

Another part of me, though, recognizes that I *can* lead (this is a part of my skills and ability that I'm still adjusting to, so my confidence wanes at times, but in the end, I do know I can be a capable leader). The simple fact that in a few short months, I've managed to enact several changes in the Board operations that I hope will move the agency as a whole forward stands as testament to my ability to make things happen (instead of just talking about the need for change). My fellow Board members are also extraordinarily supportive - they make it easy for me to lead and seem generally appreciative of the thought I tend to put into proposed changes. And our Vice President keeps reminding me that she has a son who is a high school senior, so this year really isn't ideal for her to step up, either.

So, while I can't count the number of times I've wished to be "ousted", I'm also recognizing that the bulk of the "hard" work is done. Things are settling down to the more routine work of the Board, but unlike last year, there are many more members of the Board to assist in that work which will hopefully mean we will all work hard, but none of us will have to work to the point of burn out (hopefully including the agency staff).

And that leaves me on the proverbial fence.. I'm perfectly willing to step aside and let any of the many equally (or even more) capable Board members take the helm; but I think I'm also willing to stay in the role if my fellow Board members want me to. It's sort of an odd place to be after several months of turmoil and change.

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