I just did a Google search for “bored boards,” and would you believe it went five pages deep before anything other than organizational board difficulties surfaced? If there are that many blog posts and articles with that sentiment in the title, then we have a huge problem on our hands.
Every day I have conversations with chambers, associations, and non-profits about engagement. Those discussions start around an engaged membership, but extend to boards and volunteers. Your Board of Directors, if built correctly, should be a reflection of your membership and your community. So, if you have done your work on the recruitment end, then just like your membership, the work of board member engagement begins.
At one end of the membership grid, will be about 10 percent that are there for the networking; at the other end, will be about 10 percent that are there because they are “supposed” to be. That huge 80 percent in the middle are there for a plethora of reasons, and it’s up to us to find out what those reasons are. Remember, your board is a cross section of your membership, so these percentages will look very nearly the same as for the overall membership. There is absolutely no way we will get engagement from our board if they have no clue why they are there in the first place.
If you have children and tell them that chores are part of their responsibility as a member of the family, but you don’t give them information on how to do those chores, you don’t define the chores, you don’t ask them for suggestions on how to do the chores efficiently, you take it for granted that they are going to do them unsupervised, and then if they fail, you fall into blame and irritation mode when they don’t get done. When this happens, does anyone win?
Here is some ammunition for building balance and buy-in from your Board of Directors:
- Combat potential disengagement from the very beginning by recruiting the right people and by giving them a thorough orientation; one they walk away from armed and ready to go! How often do you get a board member who sits for the entire first year without making a contribution because they just don’t know what to do? Don’t let that happen.
- If your Board of Directors can’t instantly articulate your top five efforts, accomplishments, and initiatives, then your work is far from done. Your board must know what value your organization brings to the community in order to be a voice for it.
- Make sure they clearly understand all the pieces of your organization – staff, event volunteers, ambassadors, committees, leadership team, YPs, etc. They should have an introduction to each of these groups and understand what the job of each group is toward achieving the overall purpose of the organization.
- Decide that you are going to have targeted, efficient, meaningful meetings. Give them everything you can ahead of time. Put your staff and operations reports into a consent agenda. Go over the financials with your Finance Committee Chair ahead of the board meeting; ask him/her to present a summary for presentation to the board. These efficiencies will leave plenty of time for board discussion and action.
- Actually give them the opportunity to contribute at the policy level. Don’t let your meetings be a “show and tell.” Try occasional, maybe quarterly, targeted discussions with the full board broken into groups for a portion of the regular meeting. Each of these groups can have a different topic for discussion and provide a report that will be sent out to the group.
- Don’t fall into the habit of only connecting with your board at their meetings. Every week the organization does some body of work, fights fires, holds events, and has successes and stories to tell. I suggest a weekly email wrap up to the board on Friday from the CEO. This will keep them actively engaged with the daily work of the organization.
- Go away for a retreat; have a facilitator; have periodic networking opportunities for the board. They are a small group with enormous responsibility for your organization, and if they are to work well together, they need to know one another.
- Repeatedly recognize them when they are present at events/programs/functions, acknowledge their contributions, and make sure your board list is current and accurate on your website and in printed materials.
And here’s one just for nothing: Yes, the CEO works at the will of the board. Yes indeed, they need to stay out of operations and leave that in the management space. However, you must provide leadership by staying connected with them, by keeping them informed, by being prepared for meetings, by presenting clear materials for them to absorb, and by giving them the training and tools they need to occupy their seat fully. An engaged board has to start with an engaged and committed manager!