Darrell A. Dromgoole, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Courtney Dodd, Assistant Agency Director and Texas 4-H Youth Development Program Leader, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Scott Cummings, Associate Department Head and Program Leader; Professor and Extension Specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Stacey Dewald, Graduate Assistant, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Michelle Payne, Extension Program Specialist I, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Volunteer groups such as Leadership Advisory Boards, Program Area Committees, Task Forces, Coalitions, Master Gardeners, and Master Wellness volunteers and 4-H and Youth Development Committees are immensely beneficial to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. These groups greatly expand the reach and depth of Extension programming, making it possible to offer a wide variety of educational opportunities (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018). Purposeful training and orientation of members of these groups is one essential effort that increases this effectiveness of volunteer groups (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018).
A significant body of research exists indicating that Extension should invest in continued committee and board member development (Brown, 2007; Herman & Renz, 2000). The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension surveyed 92 community members, and a common theme that emerged was the importance of committee and board member orientation (Hinton, 1994). Additionally, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service survey of 236 volunteers disclosed that an increase in training and orientation was needed by committee and board members (Ripley, Cummings, & Lockett, 2012). In a 2012 survey of 114 nonprofit executive directors, respondents indicated that conflict between directors and board members was a major issue and that strengthening board member orientation and training could be a solution to the problem (Marx & Davis, 2012). The potential for committee and boards to have insignificant performance is directly related to the level of training received by new and existing members (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018). To increase the success of committees and boards, committee and volunteer board orientation and ongoing professional development are recommended (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018).
According to Teuteberg and Brandt (2018) , Extension educators, utilizing basic facilitation skills, can lead a committee or board through six basic topics of discussion, with the intended outcome being a more effective board (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018). Extension professionals facilitate meetings regularly; by adding this easy-to-implement additional educational resource, they can increase Extension’s impact (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018).
Conducting an orientation may seem like a fundamental element when Extension educators are working with committees and boards; however, it is something that can be overlooked due to the number of tasks that must get accomplished during the limited time Extension educators have with committee or board members. Taking the time to provide committee or board members with comprehensive training and orientation will result in more effective committees or boards (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018).
A quality board orientation ultimately results in positive benefits to committee or board members, Extension educators, and clientele (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018). One likely outcome of a comprehensive orientation is that committee or board members will better connect with and trust one another (Jaskyte & Holland, 2015). Simply put, through increased education, committees or boards become more effective and successful (BoardSource, 2015).
There is an overwhelming amount of information committee or board members need to know about working with their specific committee or board (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018). Listed below are six general areas of interest to cover at a basic committee or board member orientation and some guiding questions to direct discussion (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018):
These six areas of interest are consistent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service’s suggested orientation topics. Focused training and orientation should be provided in the following areas to ensure that committee or board members have an understanding of all aspects of Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service (Ripley, Cummings, Lockett, Pope, Wright, Payne, Kieth,& Murphrey, 2011):
In order to be effective, Texas A&M AgiLife Extension Service suggests a committee or board receive training and updates throughout the year. Keep them up-to-date regarding the following (Ripley et al., 2011):
Extension educators should enlist other experts to help address these topics (Ripley et al., 2011). An Extension specialist in that subject could speak at the meeting, either in person or via technology such as WebEx, Skype, Zoom or a teleconference (Ripley et al., 2011). These opportunities enable the specialist to communicate effectively with committee or board members and be engaged in the county program (Ripley et al., 2011). It should be the goal of an Extension educator to equip these committee members to effectively “read the Extension educational landscape.”
Teuteberg and Brandt (2018) reported that they utilized a formal and purposeful orientation agenda with 18 boards over a 3-year period. These researchers reported that member involvement and member effectiveness increased (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018). These researchers also reported that in a survey conducted immediately following one board orientation addressing specific and purposeful topics, five of the 10 board members reported having a better understanding of the board on which they served (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018). One year following a board orientation, the authors of this journal article conveyed that a board president said the orientation had enabled board members to “stay focused throughout the year” (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018). Another board member commented, “It was a step in the right direction getting us to think outside the box and do something during the off season besides attend monthly meetings” (Teuteberg & Brandt, 2018). The findings communicated in this journal article are consistent with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service survey that disclosed that an increase in training and orientation was needed by committee and board members (Ripley, Cummings, & Lockett, 2012). The more opportunity a committee or board member has to be oriented and trained, the better equipped they will be to serve Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and the people of Texas.
BoardSource. (2015). Leading with intent: A national index of nonprofit board practices. Retrieved from http://leadingwithintent.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Executive-Summary_Leading-with-Intent.pdf
Brown, W. A. (2007). Board development practices and competent board members: Implications for performance. Nonprofit Management and Leadership, 17(3), 301–317.
Herman, R. D., & Renz, D. O. (2000). Board practices of especially effective and less effective local nonprofit organizations. The American Review of Public Administration, 30(2), 146–160.
Hinton, K. L. (1994). Extension’s role in developing community volunteers. Journal of Extension, 32(2), Article 2FEA4. Available at: www.joe.org/joe/1994august/a4.php
Jaskyte, K., & Holland, T. (2015). Nonprofit boards: Challenges and opportunities. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance, 39(3), 163–166.
Ripley, J. P., Cummings, S. R., & Lockett, L. L. (2012). Leadership advisory boards in Texas: Their perceived ability and utilization as the visioning body for program development. Journal of Extension, 50(1), Article 1RIB1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2012february/rb1.php
Ripley, J., Cummings, S, Lockett, L., Pope, P., Wright, M., Payne, M., Kieth, L., & Murphrey, T. (2011). Creating Excellent Programs. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Publication. E-345. Retrieved from http://agrilifecdn.tamu.edu/od/files/2010/03/E345.pdf
Teuteberg, D. & Brandt, B. (2018) A Framework for Success: The Importance of Board Member Orientation Journal of Extension, 56 (1), Article 1TOT5. Available at https://www.joe.org/joe/2018february/tt5.php