Brian Walsh served as vice president of VT-NEA. A couple of years ago he wrote the following article – it is an eminently reasonable statement on governance, and a good introduction to board activities for rank and file members.
Before I became a board director in 2005, I had no idea what our Board of Directors was all about – “governance” was an unfamiliar term. Sure, as a local leader I had become acquainted with our state officers and several area directors. But I really did not know what the board did, how often they met, or how important their positions are for our organization. Speaking with some of my local members, it is clear that many of them share my former confusion on the role played by our board of directors as Vermont-NEA’s governance.
Vermont-NEA’s Board of Directors is composed of our statewide officers – President, Vice President, Secretary-Treasurer and NEA Board Director – 16 regional directors from our seven uniserve districts, and our Executive Director. Since they are members, the officers and regional directors have voting power; the Exec’s role is advisory. The Board is our connection to the reason unions were formed. Workers knew that it was other workers, themselves, who truly always had their best interests at heart. These member-led unions are responsible for the compensation, benefits and working conditions – minimum-wage laws, health insurance, workplace safety rules, even weekends - we often take for granted today. But as time went on, the logistics and responsibilities of running a national, statewide, or even large local unions became too much for members needing to work full-time jobs to support their families. Unions then began hiring employees to assist with the myriad responsibilities of operating large labor organizations.
Vermont-NEA’s Board of Directors comprises its governance, or authority, for its operation. According to the manual Governance as Leadership, the primary responsibilities of governance include fiduciary, strategic and generative functions. Fiduciary responsibility refers to the management of an organization’s material assets. These duties obviously need to be taken very seriously, and much care and attention is devoted to our fiduciary responsibility. But the other two responsibilities are no less important; the most effective boards execute all three equally well.
Strategic planning means setting long-term goals. For these goals to be effective, they must be designed to fulfill our mission as both an educational association and as a labor organization. Generative thinking addresses the opportunities created by the challenges an organization faces working to fulfill its mission. This function obviously needs time to develop, but is vital if an organization is to develop its potential. Organizations often employ staffs to assist with all three functions, but the ultimate responsibility is with the boards themselves.