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Mel Gravely
March-08-2013

How to Recruit, Develop, and Maintain a Strong Head Start Governing Body

How to Recruit, Develop, and Maintain a Strong Head Start Governing Body

“The Board of Directors bears the primary responsibility for your organization to fulfill its obligations to the law, its donors, its staff and volunteers, its clients, and the public at large.”

– Principle for Good Governance and Ethical Practice.
The Panel on the Nonprofit Sector, October 2007.

“There is great difference between sitting on a board and serving on a board.”

– Mel Gravely

“Board members should not feel like “docile mushrooms (warm and in the dark).”

– McFarlan and Epstein
Nonprofit Boards: A Guide, 2009

A strong Head Start program needs a strong governing body. In Understanding the Role of the Governing Body, the Office of Head Start says a strong governing body “provides the support and direction that chart the course to an envisioned future.”

Here at The Gravely Group, we train Head Start agencies all over the country on how to recruit, develop, and maintain successful Head Start boards, as well as boards for other non-profits. A large part of that is learning how to work effectively as a team. Successful teams learn how to combine an individual’s strengths with the strengths of others to overcome difficulties and produce results. To do that, each member must believe that he or she is responsible for the output of the team. We can help them get there.

For the purposes of this blog, I’ve simplified the process of putting together successful boards into three steps. In reality, each step itself includes other steps, but that discussion is for another day. (See What Makes Successful Head Start Boards.)

The first step to a successful board is recruitment. The structure of the governing board should include one or more members:
– with background in fiscal management/accounting;
– with background and expertise in early childhood education and development;
– and licensed attorneys familiar with Head Start governing body issues.

Additional members should reflect the community itself, including parents of formally or currently enrolled Head Start children, community leaders, businesspeople, and education professionals.

The second step is board development. In the Head Start Program Performance Standards, it states that “Grantee and delegate agencies must have written policies that define the roles and responsibilities of the governing body members and that inform them of the management procedures and functions necessary to implement a high quality program.”

From the beginning, each board member must understand their role and how it relates to the larger goals of the organization. Managing expectations from the beginning is key, as well as early and ongoing training, communication, and information-sharing.

The third step is effective board maintenance. Maintaining a strong board is partly achieved through well-organized and structured meetings. This helps engage the board members, give them a sense of accomplishment, and strengthen the overall team for the long-term.

For more information, take a look at The Gravely Group’s Slideshare presentation – Head Start Program Governance.

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