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KSRE Tuesday Letter

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K-State Research and Extension
123 Umberger Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506-3401

September 26, 2023

Training Executive Board Members

Submitted by Chris Onstad

Kansas is one of very few states that has executive boards that represent local extension units. Most states utilize a less formal advisory process. Either way, extension is about community and the utilization of volunteers at the local level to serve the constituents of all our communities.

County extension boards elect nine members to one year terms, though they often serve multiple years on the executive board. District governing body members (four per county) are elected to four year terms. The short one-year terms can pose training challenges due to more frequent board member turnover. When you have members for multiple years, they develop a better understanding of extension and their responsibilities as board members.

Successful local extension programs tend to have supportive boards that know their roles and support the agents and staff in the educational programming. Integration of successful board members can naturally happen, but with training they will become engaged much quicker and are less likely to veer off course.

There are many training tools on the extension websites for extension employees to utilize for board training and there are multiple individuals, such as specialists and administrators, in our system that have collaborated with local units on trainings for board/governing body members. If you need a suggestion, let me know.

So what training is it that board members need?

I like how the organization, OnBoard, identifies 10 basic topics for training board members:

1) Inclusion of all board members. This leads to contributions by everyone on the board and the ability to learn and utilize individual’s strengths and ideas.
2) Knowledge of the finances of the local unit so that board members understand their financial obligations and can understand how the funds support programming and the community.
3) Goal setting by boards aids in keeping board members focused and prevents hap hazard directions.
4) Strategic action plans to help push their mission forward. This is often accomplished via our program development committees and agent action plans.
5) Responsibility awareness that they have as a group to ensure they are following those standards.
6) Risk management issues need to be recognized and addressed.
7) Engaged decision-making requires communication and empowerment of all board members.
8) Transparent record keeping so that new board members can quickly scan records such as minutes and finances to help make sound decisions.
9) Effective communication between members to maintain positive environment, and finally
10) Board self-evaluation to measure their effectiveness. This is frequently done via the board assessment tool created nearly a decade ago for the system. A large majority of local units utilize this process to identify strengths and opportunities for growth.

Not all of these items need to be formal and several can be done as routine, fun activities throughout the year. Some only need a short time and others may require lengthier commitments. There are many excellent examples that your colleagues utilize to develop engaged board members. Reach out to them for ideas and suggestions!