Illinois Farm Bureau Program Develops Strong County Leaders

AFBF Staff

photo credit: Illinois Farm Bureau

To help county Farm Bureau leaders further their knowledge and professional skills, Illinois Farm Bureau in March 2022 launched the County Farm Bureau Certified Director Program. Using the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Farm Bureau University platform, the online Illinois Farm Bureau program covers a variety of topics, including issue management, advocacy, governance and the history of the organization.

A little more than a year later, 589 members have enrolled, and more than 300 county leaders have completed their certification. Six county Farm Bureaus have 100% board certification.

Meeting a Need

Prior to 2020, Illinois Farm Bureau offered the more than 1,100 county Farm Bureau directors across the state in-person training, but the five-to-six-hour commitment on set days was too much for many of the directors, explained Tammie Obermark, Illinois Farm Bureau senior training and development specialist. In addition, because there were a variety of presenters, the information and delivery were not consistent. The creation of an online program directors had a year to complete addressed both the time and consistency issues.

The Illinois Farm Bureau began development in 2021 and rolled out the program across the state in March 2022. With messaging that focused on the importance of county directors furthering their knowledge and professional skills to build the strongest agricultural organization in their county, as well as demonstrating the importance of professionalism to members and future board members, the organization heavily promoted the program via email, postcards, social media, and the organization’s weekly newspaper, FarmWeek.

photo credit: Illinois Farm Bureau

Encouragement and Recognition

Once directors are registered for the program, Illinois Farm Bureau can track their progress and send them friendly reminders in the form of postcards thanking them for registering for the certification program and reminding them to log back in, for example.

Upon completion of the program, Illinois Farm Bureau sends participants a small portfolio with a notepad, a postcard of congratulations for attaining County Farm Bureau Certified Director status signed by Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert with a special lapel pin attached to it.

The organization also invested in apparel bearing the County Farm Bureau Certified Director logo. Directors who complete the program can order either a polo or a button down shirt with the newly designed certification logo.

The program’s display at the Illinois Farm Bureau annual meeting in Chicago generated a lot of buzz, according to Obermark. A large map of the state showed a county-by-county breakdown of how many directors had achieved County Farm Bureau Certified Director status.

“Probably the best thing that happened to us after our annual meeting was word of mouth. We had a tremendous uptick in people completing their certification and people registering because they wanted to make sure their county was represented. It was one of the biggest contributors to program growth,” Obermark said.

In a similar vein, Illinois Farm Bureau also relied on certified directors’ testimonies, which detailed what individual members personally gained through the program and were published in FarmWeek.

In addition to continuing to grow participation in the program, the Illinois Farm Bureau will be adding topics covering human resources and other important information needed to be a better board member.

New Horizon Award

The County Farm Bureau Certified Director Program garnered Illinois Farm Bureau a 2023 New Horizon Award from the American Farm Bureau Federation. The award, which honors state Farm Bureaus with the most innovative new programs, is presented annually at the AFBF Convention.