Engaging Board Members

Having sat on a number of boards and counseled many more, one of the most common problems I’ve seen is lack of board member engagement. It appears as absenteeism from organization events or even board meetings, high turnover of board membership, missed deadlines and low productivity. Or in its most insidious form, it may be disguised as a room full of people whose silence and nodding heads are interpreted as agreement. A recent survey by StreamLink Software and Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management indicated one in four board members aren’t fully engaged with the mission of the organization.

Image of several business people in a board meetingHowever, we can’t just blame the board members. It is the responsibility of the Executive Director and Board Chair to develop a high functioning board of directors.

Here are a few tips for making that happen:

Expect enough from your board.

Contrary to what you might think, low board engagement is often the result of not expecting enough from your board. Set your expectations higher and watch your board rise to meet them.

Communicate honestly about your expectations when recruiting new members. Address attendance, committee work, ambassadorship, fundraising and other expectations.

Recruit for your mission.

The most important factor when recruiting board members is not their professional expertise – or even their ties to wealthy donors – but rather their passion for your mission. Get to the core regarding why people want to serve on your board.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

Keep the communication channels flowing to keep board members in the know and involved.

Be sure to get materials to board members at least a week in advance of board meetings to give them time to review the information. If your board only meets every other month, send out an interim report between meetings to keep them updated.

Communicate in a way that is easily understood.

The information presented prior to and during board meetings should be easily understood by all members. Not everyone knows how to read a balance sheet. Make the financial information friendly to the non-financial people on your board.

Harness individual talent.

Be sure you are leveraging your board members’ talents, skills and networks. Know what each board member can offer and invite them to participate when you see relevant opportunities.

Embrace diverse opinions.

If you have 12 board members who always agree with everything, you don’t need 11 of them. Constructive debate leads to better decision making. Create a safe environment where people feel their opinions are not only welcome, but expected.

Make board meetings productive.

Board meetings spent reading reports create bored members. Use a consent agenda to handle those items that must be addressed but do not require discussion. Then take meeting time to have engaging discussions regarding the organization’s strategy, community needs and trends. Have objectives for each meeting and ensure the members feel they have been met when the meeting concludes.

Show your appreciation.

Make sure your board members know the value they bring to your board and to the organization as a whole. They need to know how their individual contributions make a difference. Otherwise, they will see no point in participating.

For more information on getting your board engaged, or to discuss our board development services, please contact Victoria Lindstrom at Victoria@suasion.us.

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