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What Makes an Effective LLLI Board Member?

Sharon Vines, Jane Tuttle, Marcia Lutostanski, Kathy Kendall-Tackett, Donna Cookson Martin, and Heidi Sloss
LLLI Board of Directors
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 42 No. 2, April-May-June 2006, pp. 42-43.

Are you interested in finding out more about serving on the LLLI Board of Directors? Maybe you know someone who would make a great LLLI Board member. Maybe you have the qualities and qualifications to be a wonderful Board member yourself. Each of the seven LLLI Zones selects nominees to the LLLI Board of Directors every three years on a rotating basis. The process for selecting nominees varies in different Zones. Each Zone has its own process for selecting nominees, but it is the responsibility of the Leaders in every Zone to be aware of the attributes of a strong potential Board member.

Experience and Skill Sets

The skills that the Board members bring to the board table are the tools used to complete the Board's work. The LLLI Board uses standing committees and workgroups to accomplish its work. The work of the LLLI Board is different from the administrative work that Leaders may do at the Group, Area, Division, or Affiliate level. The LLLI Board sets policy for the organization and the vision for the future. Understanding the big picture is key to being an effective LLLI Board member. Each LLLI Board member brings unique skills, knowledge, and experience that are assets to her or his Board service.


Board members of nonprofits lead the organization by understanding its mission, its values and imagining the future. In an international organization there are many perspectives on any given issue and it is the Board's responsibility to gather as much information as possible from a variety of sources to consider those perspectives. Likewise it is the Board's role to determine when enough information has been gathered to have a comprehensive discussion and make decisions. Board members must know how to raise important issues, ask questions in a way that increases everyone's understanding, and move the conversation forward. Moreover, Board members need to be able to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions that are ultimately for the good of the organization. When thinking about who would make a productive and effective candidate for LLLI Board service, it is important to look at how she or he has dealt with difficult and/or controversial issues in other situations.

Working as Part of a Group

LLLI Board members need to have respect for the group process. Discussion of what may on the surface appear to be a relatively simple item often reveals a surprising variety of perspectives. Being comfortable with oneself without feeling the need to hold tightly to ideas and "sides" of an issue is an asset in a Board member. Considering the information from all perspectives before committing oneself emotionally and psychologically to a position will markedly improve the quality of decision making. The Board needs members who recognize that the work of the Board of Directors is about the organization: La Leche League International. It is not about the individuals who make up the Board or about the Leaders and administrators in the Zone who nominated the Board member. LLLI Board members work hard to be aware of perspectives of the Leaders and mothers in their Zones. However, it is the responsibility of Board members to make decisions that best serve all breastfeeding mothers and babies around the world.

The Board needs members who can listen and ask questions that clarify understanding and broaden views, giving full and serious consideration to alternative solutions. The members of a group influence and impact each other. Being able to empathize with others is also important.

When considering a nominee's ability to work as part of a group, you may ask, "How does a prospective nominee work with others to come to decisions that reflect a variety of perspectives and are best for the organization's future? Does she inspire others to work together to find solutions and resolve disagreements?"

Desire to Learn

We are a learning organization and it is critical that nominees for the LLLI Board of Directors have a desire to learn and are open to creative ideas and new ways of furthering the LLLI purpose. Our world is constantly changing; the ways that people communicate and work together are not the same today as they were yesterday and might not be the same tomorrow. Although babies' and mothers' needs remain the same, how LLLI reaches those mothers with our unique message of mothering through breastfeeding will continue to adapt to the changing world environment.


Commitment to the organization's purpose seems to be an obvious quality to look for when thinking about potential nominees to the LLLI Board. It takes time, energy, a strong work ethic, and lots of self-discipline to serve on the LLLI Board of Directors. This is not a ceremonial board, nor is it one that has members in name only.

Much of the work of the LLLI Board is done through email. Reading, processing, and discussing issues electronically can be daunting. It can also be difficult to work in a group that only meets face to face two or three times a year. The ability to work independently, to take the initiative in getting work started and moving it forward can be a challenge when you're physically isolated from those you're working with.

On the other hand, the necessity of attending Board meetings, which may last for five days (or even longer if there are extra committee or office meetings involved), means that a Board member must have the flexibility to schedule time away from home. She or he needs to enjoy working long hours in group situations over the course of these meetings.

When considering a nominee for the Board, it is natural to think in terms of Leaders. For most of its history, the LLLI Board has been composed of LLL Leaders and the LLLI Bylaws stipulate that 75 percent of the Board's membership must be Leaders. Leaders represent the population LLLI serves, mothers and babies, and bring an intimate understanding of our unique organizational culture. However, they do not always bring the special skill sets needed for governing a large, international nonprofit corporation, which is what LLLI has become. Some skills are always needed. The need for some skills changes from time to time depending on the experience and background of current Board members as well as the issues the Board will concentrate on during the upcoming years. Financial, legal, and fundraising expertise are always needed on the LLLI Board of Directors. Experience in the product licensing and real estate fields has also been important in recent years. We can consider people with experience gained from working in other organizations as they may have much to offer LLLI. When we limit ourselves only to people who have proved their commitment by their work within LLL, we may be missing excellent candidates who would bring skills and experience that would benefit the whole organization.

LLLI is a nonprofit organization with a distinct purpose. Our message is important; breastfeeding mothers and babies still benefit from learning about our unique philosophy. This is why we exist. We need Board members who have the vision and the willingness to help us be mission-minded rather than maintenance-minded. We need to continue to focus our energies and resources outward to the mothers and babies we want to serve and not just turn inward to focus on maintaining our organization and serving ourselves.

By volunteering for a Board committee you can learn about what serving on the Board might be like. You will discover if you like working in the virtual environment as committees do all their work electronically. You will be exposed to the myriad of perspectives on any given topic and the importance of considering many perspectives before making a decision. You will learn if you can let go of your own opinion as you work to further the LLLI mission. To learn more about the standing committees you can review their commission in the Policies and Standing Rules Notebook (PSR). The PSR is on the LLLI Web site and on the Community Network. Additionally all current committees and workgroups are listed at

For more information refer to "How the LLLI Board Works from Year to Year" by Susan Deo in the Aug-Sept 2004 issue of Leaven.

As long as we look in mirrors instead of windows, we are in danger of serving our organization instead of our community. Who outside the window can we serve?
-- Kay Sprinkle Grace, noted author and nonprofit specialist

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