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Board Member Profile

Interview with Robyn Gruner, Founding  Board Member and Current Board Chair, CASA of the Fox CitiesCASA program board member Robyn Gruner

1. How did you first get involved with the CASA program?

I was introduced to CASA by highly respected members of the community. Two different people brought the organization to my attention within a very short timeframe. I had never heard of CASA prior to these two conversations and was pulled in immediately by he mission of the organization. I was asked to sit on the founding board of CASA of the Fox Cities and appointed chair during that first meeting. It’s been a blessing!

2. What word would you use to describe your first year on the board?

Whirlwind!

3. Have there been any major strategic decisions that your board has faced during your tenure?

As a brand new local chapter, there have been many major strategic decisions that our board has faced. In the past year and a half, we have taken all of the necessary steps to gain provisional then full membership in National CASA. We have put together a very strategic team to make up our board of directors. The people that we have chosen to serve on the board don’t only have the passion for the organization’s mission; they serve a purpose and fill a gap that needs to be filled for the team. Our most significant decision to date has been the recruiting and hiring of our first executive director. This decision was taken very seriously by our board as we know that the individual in that seat will ultimately drive the direction of the organization as well as the community perception of who CASA of the Fox Cities is. Hiring Maria Turner as the first leader of our chapter was the smartest strategic move we could have made coming out of the gates.

(see below for follow-up question)

4. If you were recruiting a new board member today, what would you tell them about the work they’ll be doing for this board and program?

We are very selective when looking for new board members for our chapter. We analyze the skills and experiences that current members bring to the table and recruit community members who can help us fill in any gaps. When we meet with potential board members, we do our best to confirm that their heart and mind are inline with the overall mission and vision of CASA. Once that has been established, we are up front about our board roles and responsibilities. As a working board in a smaller non-profit organization, all individuals need to roll up their sleeves and get involved. Board members understand that they are responsible for working with our staff to set the overall strategic direction for the organization and govern overall so that we meet our objectives. Our board understands that while they will not be meeting directly face to face with the children and families that we serve, the work that we are doing at the board level is a critical piece to ensure the foundation is strong and the house we’ve built stays intact.

5. What would you recommend a board member should know/learn prior to beginning?

I make sure board members know that they do not need to know everything before becoming a vital resource to our organization. They need to have the passion for our mission and a willingness to learn. Board members should be aware of the relationship that exists between the local chapter, state association and National CASA. So many great things occur when all three are aligned. The resources available to a board member are endless.

6. How do you build a relationship between board members so they stay engaged and committed to the board work?

I think the key is finding the right people to fill vacant board seats. It’s not wise to just “fill the room” with the first person who raises his hand to volunteer. Potential board members must be given a proper set of expectations up front, prior to being asked to join a board. After both the board and the potential member have gathered information and determined that there is a good fit on both sides, a board member should be invited to join the team. One of the steps we’ve implemented for new board members is an orientation session. Here, new board members are provided a binder full of useful information such as the chapter bylaws, connections to National CASA and stories from children whose lives have been impacted by CASA. We’ve found that getting board members off on the right foot with the proper set of expectations goes a long way. We also ask board members to participate in at least one of our committees. This way, they are engaged in the task work in addition to the governance of the organization. There is a significant amount of communication within our board and all board members are encouraged to share ideas, ask questions, and provide feedback in a courteous, respectful and professional environment.

7. What resources did you find most helpful when you had questions about board work?

Fortunately, I have had a lot of experience with board work personally and professionally. This experience has offered a wealth of knowledge to bring to the table. But I’ve also learned that every board, just as every organization is different. There is a lot of great information available on the National CASA website that board members should take advantage of. There are articles and resources online available from other organizations as well that would be beneficial for members of a board.

8. What one piece of advice would you offer to other CASA board members?

I’d encourage other board members to always stay connected to the mission of the organization. Many times, board members have a personal or professional agenda that drives the decisions that they make and actions they take. Although they may have the best of intentions, if that decision or action doesn’t have a direct positive impact on the children that CASA is in place to support, it shouldn’t happen.

Follow–up question: Could you expand a little on question #3 in regards to hiring your director. Was there a process you found helpful?

One of the steps we took when looking to hire our first executive director was the creation of a selection committee. This committee was made up of highly-respected individuals in the community outside of our board of directors who had professional experience in human resources. This step was critical for us in finding the right candidate as none of our board members at the time had extensive HR experience and it also allowed the opportunity for a truly non-biased decision making process. This also relieved our board members from the time required to review all of the incoming resumes so we could focus on other efforts to continue moving the organization forward. This separate selection committee agreed to be the team to screen all resumes that fit our selection criteria and submit a slate of final candidates to the board for interviews. This process was beneficial to us in so many ways. It engaged other members of the community, it allowed for individuals who weren’t directly involved in CASA to review resumes of potential candidates without being “too close” to the organization, and it kept our board free to work on other critical tasks.

While conducting interviews, the entire board was invited to participate. One of our priorities for the interview process was consistency, so each interview was conducted by the same people from our board. We also prepared questions in advance and asked the same question at each interview. Each candidate was assessed on several factors: previous experiences and positions held, leadership ability, ability to work with a board and volunteers, and most importantly, a passion for the mission of CASA. Looking back at the entire process, I am proud at how the board conducted this search and hire and could not be happier with the individual who was selected to run our local chapter!

Meet another CASA/GAL program board member:

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