By Jane Logan
This article was first published
in The Canadian Association in September 2004.
The Media Awareness Network, or MNet, is a shining
example of an organization that maximizes its Board. When its founding
Co-director, Jan DArcy, left in June after a spectacular 10
years, it seemed like a great time to ask about the magic.
From a pioneering start in the early 90s, MNet now hosts the worlds
largest English-and French-language media education resource at
About 100,000 unique visitors come to the MNet site weekly, and
well over 90% of them make return visits. The organization and its
programs have become models for other countries.
And thats without core funding from government.
Over the years, a whos who of the broadcasting, cable and
telco industries has served on MNets Board, contributing to
this success. Other alumni include the presidents of the Canadian
Teachers Federation, Canadian Association of Principals, Canadian
Library Association, and senior health and government officials.
Jan shared her secrets for getting Board members engaged, contributing
their time, brainpower and funds. Here is her thoughtful advice.
Mission, vision and partnerships:
- Build commitment with a strong mission: Your mission should
appeal to a higher good and be well understood. Board members
have to know: its bigger than my company, bigger than my
sector, its for our kids and their future. They need to
understand that the organization they serve is doing an important
job, doing it well, and no one else is doing it. As Board members,
the leadership role of the organization becomes their own.
- Provide a common goal with a focussed vision that everyone understands:
We said from day one we would develop a world-class on-line
program and a world-class organization.
- Use the Board as a bridge to partnerships that can help a small
organization accomplish the extraordinary: MNets partnership
model ensures its programs are relevant, delivered efficiently
in the marketplace, and linked to public policy. Major programs
like those with the Canadian Library Association, Canadian Teachers
Federation, Canadian Paediatric Society, Girl Guides of Canada
and others sponsored by corporate partners like Bell Canada are
anchored by partner representatives on the Board and steering
committees. Testimonials and enthusiasm have become part of Board
- Conduct strategic planning or visioning sessions with the Board
every three or four years: These sessions keep the organization
on top of its game and in a leadership position. Our environment
is constantly changing and good strategic planning helps an organization
maximize new opportunities.
- Establish a by-law review every four or five years: This
is key for ensuring continuity and refreshing the corporate memory.
- Select Board members based on clear criteria: MNets
by-laws define expectations for balanced representation from different
sectors. Develop a grid to understand what strengths are currently
on the Board and what gaps need to be addressed.
- Plan, follow through and report: This may be obvious,
but you have to do what you say you are going to do and then provide
an annual report card. That provides Board satisfaction.
- Provide Board orientation: We have introductory sessions
for new Board members to make sure they understand our purpose
and founding story. Expectations are set, including the need to
leave corporate interests at the door.
- Ensure continuity: We invite outgoing Board members to
sit in on our first meeting of the new Board. They help set the
tone and new members observe their commitment.
- Make Board meetings interesting and informative: Our Board
members say they come for the conversations. We show what the
organization does, our progress in the past six months, and provide
pre-release briefings on research and new programs. The result
is they really understand our work and our impact.
- Build strategic third-party encounters into Board meetings:
At the end of our meetings, we often have a guest (for example
a senior government official) to meet informally with Board members
and senior staff. Once a year we have a VIP reception. Its
great value-added for Board members.
- Consult transparently and strategically: Its essential
to be straightforward. When I have a tricky issue, I call three
or four Board members for their advice and I tell them who else
I am calling. We use their time wisely these calls take
about 10 minutes each. The result is getting excellent advice
from the right people.
- Share the credit: Jan credits her fellow founding officers Al
MacKay, Sandra MacDonald, Sheridan Scott and Anne Taylor, for
the organizations success as well as every other
Board member and Chair since day one. Board contributions through
partnerships, financial support and strategic advice are well
- Stay in touch: MNet Board alumni remain important advocates
and receive regular updates about the organizations work.
Once you are touched by us, youll discover our arms
are pretty long.
Is that helpful? Jan asked. It seems like common
sense to me.
With a powerful and compelling mission and vision, a commitment
to the next generation and to quality, MNet has attracted top notch
Board members that have helped to push the organization to new heights.
An equally committed staff, hard work, integrity and common sense
deliver on this promise.
Jan DArcy has been instrumental in creating this culture
of dedication. On a personal level, she has kept herself fresh and
motivated with job changes every 10 years and is now looking for
her next challenge.
© Jane Logan. Not to be used without permission