These suggestions focus on easy ways to incorporate board development into regular pool activities.
Director development is crucial to the longevity of your program; a pool will only run as well as its board allows. Below are 10 ways to incorporate board development — from recruitment to succession planning — into regular pool activities. Our list is tried and tested, containing recommendations from RPA pools in Arizona, New Jersey and the Midwest. Although there are many resources on strategic board development (identifying gaps, filling vacancies with intent, etc.), our list focuses on easy actions you can initiate without full-scale board planning activities.
Constantly and consistently grow your pipeline
- Build relationships with members. The first and potentially most obvious task: Create affinity for your pool. People are more likely to volunteer — and take their service seriously — for something they feel passionately about. Leverage meetings, on-site visits, conferences and other opportunities to engage in direct conversations with members, both known and unfamiliar. Keep interactions simple, deliberate and aligned to member needs to help build affinity.
- Identify potential candidates and keep a list. As you build relationships with members, learn about their involvement in their own risk management practices, their participation in industry organizations and where their interests lie. This understanding can give great insight into the type of board member they could be and what gaps on your board they might fill. Keep an informal list of who you think would be a good director and why. Use the list for reference as you build your board.
- Have realistic expectations. A good candidate who already understands pooling is ideal, but a great candidate can be taught pooling. So don't throw an excellent candidate out if their only drawback is unfamiliarity with pools. You will need to teach any new director about the intricacies of your operation — teaching pooling just adds another layer.
Onboard new leaders
- Lay a strong foundation. Once you have a leader in the pipeline, education becomes vital. Understanding pooling and your program allows for sound decision-making and encourages advocacy that will help the pool grow. So provide new leaders with a good understanding of basic operations —including the responsibilities of different vendor partners and how they work in conjunction with the board — in a variety of formats (online, in-person, via a director's manual, etc.). This step is about the basics; intimate knowledge and thorough understanding will build over time.
- Start small. If you can help it, don't start a new director on the executive committee or in the pool's most nuanced volunteer role. Provide novices with confidence-building activities leading to escalating responsibility and complexity over time. A good initial opportunity may be to help market the program through targeted outreach and/or by serving on the pool's membership growth committee. Reinforce these and other new skills through education and training.
- Use committees. Assign aspiring and new leaders to committees to familiarize them with more specialized pool information. Consider service-related assignments involving matters such as claims, safety and loss control first, and then increase complexity over time. (Depending on the pool, committees may be ad hoc or they may be part of a board subcommittee structure with an executive committee on top.)
Continue investment and development
- Rotate. If you've identified individuals with leadership potential who have demonstrated interest and enthusiasm, rotate them through different committees so that they become even more familiar with operations. As their knowledge increases, consider inviting them to join more advanced, challenging committees handling matters of coverage and finance. You might even consider creating a formal program or process for the rotation.
- Leverage strengths. As you learn more about your directors by seeing them perform in multiple venues, you will be able to foster and encourage roles that fit their knowledge, desires and strengths, as well as the best interests of the pool. This effort will create a good fit for them and a good fit for you, a symbiotic relationship that ideally will endure for some time.
- Elevate. Finally, once a member has gained the experience needed to be a more skilled, more effective steward of the pool's business, consider elevating them to a position on the board or executive committee. There, they can use the knowledge, understanding and relationships they have built to benefit your pool.
Plan for succession
Make them ambassadors. Engage directors to cultivate the next generation of leaders. Encourage sitting directors to represent the pool to members (see Build relationships with members) and mentor new leaders through their own growth process at the pool. Consider creating an emeritus program so retiring board talent can remain accessible to new leaders for years to come.