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Joining an agriculture board? How to set yourself up for member success

2.5 min read

If you volunteer for something you have a high level of knowledge and a strong passion for, it’ll likely be a pleasant experience for you.

Before joining an ag board, experts urge careful thought and thorough questioning about potential ramifications. In other words, know what you’re getting into.

Doreen Pendgracs is the author of Before You Say Yes - A Guide to the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards. Pendgracs sat on various boards for 25 years at the time of publishing.

“If you volunteer for something that you have a high level of knowledge in, and a strong passion for, it’ll likely be a pleasant experience for you and helpful for the organization that you wish to volunteer for,” Pendgracs says.

Give to give back

Prospective members also need to check their egos at the door and assess their motives for joining a board.

“You should be doing it out of servitude, to help a cause, industry or organization,” Pendgracs says, leaving plans of personal gain behind.

The ability to face criticism — publicly or privately — is another factor to consider, says Bonnie den Haan, who chairs the board of Farm and Food Care Ontario and is also on the board of the Dairy Farmers of Canada and the Dairy Farmers of Ontario.

She says the decision to sit on a board should also consider the working relationship with current board members, den Haan says.

“People who have a conflict with current board members - this can be very disruptive to discussions at the board,” she says, adding the need to understand the importance of confidentiality.

Ask questions

Don’t accept or pursue a directorship without understanding what’s going to be expected of you. And the only way to do that is to ask questions.

den Haan advises asking a current board member how much time they spend on board activities. Don’t forget to include the time it takes to read and understand pertinent documents and otherwise prepare for meetings, she says.

Pendgracs notes board positions can take up more time than expected. If, for example, someone considers taking a board position because they have more time on their hands, the reality is that pace may not be sustainable long-term as jobs and family circumstances change.

She recommends asking what skills gap the current board has and what can be brought to the table. And, if there was a special invitation to join the board, ask why.

“Is it because of my connections with other groups or people?” asks Pendgracs. “Is it because of my expertise in a specific area like finance or networking? For my past professional experience?”

In other words, know what’s expected of you and what you can contribute.

Training and mentorship are important issues that need addressing as well.

“And is there a manual that provides info about how the board operates, how often it meets, are expenses covered, etc.? What are the rules?” says Pendgracs. It doesn’t hurt to ask several questions before deciding whether to accept the board appointment.

Bottom line

Sitting on an ag board can be personally and professionally fulfilling, but requires a lot of work and time. Ask plenty of questions before agreeing to be on a board, experts say, to discover expectations and where and how you can best contribute.

Article by: Richard Kamchen

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