CASA: A Guide to Program Development

Section 1 - Planning a Quality Program (Chapters 1- 9)
Section II - Volunteers (Chapters 10- 12)
Section III - Managing the Program (Chapters - 13-15)

<Manual HomeIntro Chapters1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Section I - Planning a Quality Program
Chapter 4: Establishing the Board

Board Recruitment
Considerations in Selecting Board Members
  - The Judge
  - Social Services Personnel and Public Attorneys
  - Foster Parents
  - Relatives
Board Responsibilities

At this point in the development of the program, it is time for the steering committee to develop the organization?s governing board of directors. Though there are still planning steps to be completed, the organization is entering what can be considered the implementation phase. The pace of the action will increase and several things will be happening at the same time. Funding must be found, staff should be hired, policies and operational systems developed, and volunteers recruited. The board members who will oversee the program?s initial operations should be involved in these steps and committee members can use additional help at this point. In fact, it is not unusual for some members of the committee, especially those who made a time-limited commitment, to decide to step aside at this point.

Establishing the board is another very important step and the decisions made now regarding the composition of the board and its role will significantly impact the ultimate success of the organization. A strong board provides both the energy and stability needed to assure the life of the program.

A key aspect to the successful operation of a board is its size. There are several considerations in determining the optimum number of members: the skills needed to fulfill the program?s mission; the need for various constituencies to be represented; the need for enough people to serve on committees; and the need to have enough members so that no one member feels overworked. An optimum working board generally has 12-20 members. The initial board may be smaller in number with a plan to add more members as the need arises. The by-laws should establish a minimum and maximum number of members.

The by-laws should also establish the length of a board member?s tenure. It is usually advisable to stagger the terms of board members so that a half or a third are elected every one or two years, for terms of two to four years. This assures that the entire board does not retire at once. Most organizations limit board members to two consecutive terms, a good approach that encourages the board to identify and cultivate new board members in a thoughtful and effective process.

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Board Recruitment

An effective board does not happen by accident. It must be carefully built and maintained by the collective efforts of every board member. When the executive director is hired, that person should also collaborate on identifying new board members. Two factors should serve as starting points. The first is the need for diversity. This includes diversity of demographics such as sex, age, and ethnic background; linkages to various sectors of the community; and the individual skills and interests which members bring. Strong boards have a composition that is representative of the larger world in which they operate.

The second factor is the need for commonality in board members. While acknowledging the need for diversity, the board must ensure that members have a shared belief in the mission and essential values of the organization. Each member must be committed enough to give the time and resources needed.

The objective of the recruitment process is to identify and select people who can operate as a team in performing the board?s duties. The first step is to identify those skills and characteristics that are needed on a well-rounded board. Common skills sought for newly forming CASA boards include human resources/personnel management; public relations/media experience; nonprofit management skills; accounting/financial management; office administration; fund development experience; and volunteer management.

Potential board members should be interviewed personally by members of the committee to determine their interest and suitability and to explain the responsibilities and expectations of CASA board members. Friendship with a committee member should not assure a position on the board for anyone. Screening of potential members should be conducted using the same methods required for staff and volunteer applicants. This includes child protective services and criminal background checks. This sends the clear signal that CASA is a professional organization that is serious about finding quality board members. The board candidate should be informed in advance about the screening process and should be asked to sign a release authorizing committee members to obtain the necessary information.

Once board members have been selected, they should be given a thorough orientation regarding CASA, the planning process and progress to date, and what will be expected of each board member and the board as a collective body. Training for the new board on the roles and responsibilities of boards can be very helpful at this stage. In addition to the learning opportunity, it also offers a chance for new board members to get to know each other. Bringing in a consultant from United Way, the local community college or another nonprofit to provide the training is usually a good idea.

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Considerations in Selecting Board Members

A major goal in selecting board members for the new CASA program is the development of a professional and credible image in the community, particularly among the many professionals that will come in contact with the program once volunteers are assigned to cases. It is crucial, therefore, to develop a board of individuals who are not only qualified and committed to CASA, but who are also free of potential bias or conflict resulting from their employment or other organizations with which they are affiliated. CASA planning committees often specifically recruit people with these connections, believing that the program will benefit from their other affiliations. While this can be very helpful in the planning stages, once a governing board is established, it is wise to avoid using individuals from organizations where real or perceived conflict of interest may develop. A CASA board member must be able to make a firm commitment to carry out the duties of membership. As long as a potential for conflict exists, that person faces the likelihood that at some future point, one or both of their roles may be compromised (see board selection characteristics in the Tools section).

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The Judge

For example, consider the judge. If he initiated the development of the program and has been involved with the planning up to now, he may have a strong feeling of ownership and assume that he will be a member of the governing board. However, his membership on the board can present a problem. The key issue is the necessity for program independence. A judge who will be appointing volunteers to cases and assuming a position on the board could compromise the program?s independence. If the judge is perceived as being overly influenced by the CASA volunteer?s recommendations or too closely involved with the program, other professionals may question the judge?s ability to give equal consideration to the evidence of all parties in a case.

Most judges will not want to be a member of the board. They will generally want input on some policy matters and involvement in training of volunteers. These are important and appropriate roles for the court. However, some judges do not see any conflict in hearing cases and serving on the board. Obviously, this is a delicate issue that will take considerable diplomacy. Allowing the presiding judge to name a fellow judge, perhaps a retired judge or one who has left the bench, is sometimes a graceful out.

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Social Services Personnel and Public Attorneys

Having an employee from the public social services agency on the board looks like a good idea at first glance. However, when the inevitable conflict occurs between CASA and the agency, that individual may be putting his/her employment on the line if the conflict concerns agency policy.

A similar barrier exists in the case of a county attorney, prosecutor, or district attorney. These public employees are frequently involved in the same cases that CASA volunteers are assigned to but they have different roles. They may or may not be in agreement with the position of a volunteer in any given case. For that reason it is best to avoid even the possibility of conflict by not utilizing them as board members.

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Foster Parents

Foster parents are often the most vocal critics of the court and child welfare agencies. All too often, they have witnessed children being victimized by the system that is supposed to protect them. Often they are motivated to become involved with CASA because they see it as a possible remedy for the ills of the system. While their knowledge of the system would seem to make them suitable candidates for board membership, their roles may become blurred. Their ability to make objective decisions that will further the program?s accomplishment of its mission may be compromised. It is better if they are encouraged to seek involvement with other organizations.

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Relatives

Often, interest in the CASA mission extends beyond the planning committee member to their families. Family members may also have time available or specific skills that would be useful to the CASA board. However, involving relatives of planning committee members or staff often leads to serious conflicts of interest. Any action taken can be questioned within the context of the family relationship. These perceptions can be even harder to deal with than realities.

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Board Responsibilities

Developing and clarifying the board?s role at each stage of the program?s development is essential because the board?s involvement, commitment, sense of partnership, and strength can make a critical difference in an organization?s ability to continue and to grow (see Board & Staff - Who Does What in the Tools section). Staff and volunteers come and go, but a strong board that brings in new members with new ideas on a regular basis is the foundation for the program?s growth.

Most nonprofit leaders agree that it is the board?s duty to do the following:

  • Carry out the functions and obligations as designated by law or charter. The board should have a written description of the role and legal authority.
  • Serve as a review body to counsel, advise, and deliberate with staff regarding program policy and operations. The board needs to take the pulse of the organization, to watch its spirit and to be sure it is progressing toward agreed upon goals.
  • Set policy, authorize operational goals and objectives, and emphasize quality of overall corporate planning in the organization.
  • Encourage the director to establish rules and procedures for the administration of the agency and see that they are followed.
  • Serve as a public community relations organization. This means members need to have access to (or in some cases be a member of) the constituents and public of the organization -- to hear from them and talk to them. This is necessary both to be able to interpret the organization to the public and the concerns and needs of the constituents to the organization. In other words, the organization must not operate in a vacuum.
  • Monitor operations of the agency. This includes having access to necessary information regarding budget, program, problems and achievements so it can objectively evaluate the director and the agency itself.
  • Support the agency in securing funds. Appropriate board members should accompany and support the director in solicitation visits. In some cases they may want to make the presentation. Board members should engage in fundraising activities as necessary.
  • Act as ambassadors, negotiators, and intermediaries between the agency and community members whenever problems arise. At times, this may mean taking a stand against some action that the program is being pressured to carry out. This task may sometimes require fighting a battle with politically influential people.
  • In some programs, the board has primary responsibility for finances. The treasurer must keep financial records; prepare financial statements and reports; prepare budgets (together with staff); and safeguard the program's financial assets through bonding, insurance and internal controls.


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