This article was previously published in Bird Breeder magazine and is reprinted here with permission of the author.
What Makes A Good Board Member?
by Laurella Desborough
In the last column I discussed the need for a national organization to act as a spokesperson for aviculture. In order for this national organization to be effective, the members of the board of directors must provide guidance for the organization or must employ an executive director to provide this guidance. What qualifications are important for members of such a board of directors?
First, it is extremely advantageous if all board members have a background in some profession or an equivalent in experience. Why is this important? Professionals have been trained and educated in a field of study. During this process they have learned how to think, do problem-solving, participate in team work, and control their emotions and actions. They have learned public-speaking, writing, ethics, organizational structure, and, hopefully, they have gained a broader view of life in general. All of these characteristics are important in defining an effective board members. Professionals from many fields are able to bring more knowledge and interaction skills to their work on the board of a national organization. Some individuals, however, have acquired these skills without benefit of formal professional education.
An individual willing to act as a volunteer on a board of directors should have a serious interest in birds and aviculture. However, a serious interest might be described as a dedication to breeding one species. If an individual is only committed to one aspect of bird keeping, this could prove to be a problem when other issues are brought before the board. If, however, the individual is highly committed to one aspect of aviculture, but is interested in the broader aspects of aviculture that a board must address, then he or she will make an effective board member. Therefore, an effective board member will have had years of experience in the care and breeding of birds or in some other hands-on aspect of aviculture.
Board Member Resume
Members of this board of directors bring more to their work on the board if they have served in other capacities within the national organization; held a variety of positions within other organizations with similar memberships and goals; or held the position of board member in another organization. Serving at various levels within the organizational structure provides experience that cannot be learned otherwise. Each organization has its own unique culture that a board member needs to understand. Working on organizational tasks provides valuable learning regarding the membership and their needs. One can observe the effectiveness of the organization within the larger community. One can experience the problems existing within the organization and try to solve them. One can also experience being a team player. The bottom line is that experiences in various positions within an organization better prepare one to participate as a board member in directing that organization.
Disqualifiers for Board Members
No board member exhibits every positive characteristic, but hopefully each board member will exhibit several of the positive characteristics needed for effective participation on the board. There are some characteristics that pose a threat to teamwork. The individual who has the kind of ego that requires constant stroking is generally unable to put the needs of the organization ahead of his or her own personal agenda. Unless a board member is able to control his or her emotions and personal desires, he or she will not only be ineffective and create distractions, but actually will reduce the general effectiveness of the board.
Therefore, in order to be effective, a national avicultural organization needs board members with the right stuff ... professionalism achieved through their education, training and work; a sound avicultural background; experience in positions at various levels within the organization; and the ability to keep his or her ego and emotions in check.
Are You Willing To Get Involved?
A National Organization Is Needed
I will continue addressing the critical issues facing aviculture today. First, I will present an overview of what is needed in a viable national organization representing the interests of aviculture. The four cornerstones of this organization, which provide a solid foundation, are as follows:
1) It should be well-known within and outside the avicultural community; i.e. it has history;
2) It should be well-supported by its constituents; i.e., it has ample funds and active volunteers;
3) It should be governed by well-informed and proactive directors; i.e., directors who see the broad picture and are willing to take action as needed; and
4) It should be financially stable, i.e., with sufficient annual working funds for budgeted expenses and with reserve funds for the future.
An Industry Spokesman Is Needed
When issues are raised that affect aviculturists, it is important that an organization that is recognized as an industry spokesman be known and available to deal with the issues. Such an organization would have individuals prepared to represent aviculture and act as spokesmen for the interests of bird owners. For instance, when the airlines put forward transportation regulations that are problematic for bird shippers, a recognized avicultural industry spokesman would be able to meet with the airline representatives to discuss the problem and seek a positive resolution.
When state laws are being proposed that will have a negative effect on aviculture, an industry spokesman would communicate with appropriate legislators to educate them about aviculture and the potential ramifications of the proposed law. When national laws affecting aviculture are being proposed or amended, an industry spokesman would be able to attend the deliberations and represent the interests of aviculture. Without a recognized organization that can act as an industry spokesman, there is no one well-prepared to respond to problems, proposed legislation or media inquiries regarding anything from pet bird ownership to smuggling.
A Spokesperson At CITES
The most important international body that develops regulations affecting aviculture is the Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). A spokesman for aviculture is needed to attend the annual meetings of the CITES Animals Committee and the CITES Transportation Committee and the biannual CITES conferences. This avicultural spokesman would be able to present information that could change the outcome of resolutions from negative to positive in regards to the interests of aviculture.
A Spokesperson To Address Recurring Issues
In addition to attending to problems with laws and regulations, an industry spokesman would be able to seek the establishment of positive working relationships with the zoo community, the avian veterinary community, the conservation community, the wild bird community, the retail industry organizations and state regulatory bodies or federal government agencies. Along this line, the national organization acting as spokesman for aviculture would address the need for development of educational materials about birds and their care for schools; for extra-curricular youth groups, such as the Scouts; and for seniors.
Lacking an industry spokesman, regulatory problems that arise are generally addressed by local aviculturists, if at all. These individuals may be ill-prepared to effectively meet these challenges and may not have a broad understanding of the issues or of those who bring them forward. Thus, piece-meal attempts to resolve legislative problems abound across the U.S. When national legislation arises, the national avicultural organizations have in the past taken different stances on the issues. This creates difficulties in obtaining positive outcomes. For many years, there were no avicultural representatives at the CITES Animals Committee meetings, leaving the field open to those who wanted to control or eliminate bird keeping and who sought to influence the CITES officials in those directions.
In our grade schools we can find study units being provided that teach about birds from the perspective of the animal rights agenda. On television we find shows that present bird ownership in a very negative light. Without a recognized and effective industry spokesman, these problems will continue to exist and eventually will result in the curtailment of our avicultural activities.