One of the most common questions I get asked is “How can I get my board to be better engaged?” Although it is difficult to change a culture of apathy or disengagement, it can be done over time and with the right tools.
Most of the time that there is a disconnect, it’s in one or more of these areas. Here are four tools that I have seen transform boards of directors.
1. Commitment Form/Job Description
The full expectations of board service must be articulated in the “commitment/accountability form” or “job description” given to the potential board member prior to their nomination. Once they understand and agree to all the expectations of board service, then their name can be submitted for nomination. It’s also good practice to have returning board members agree to it annually as situations can change with their availability, employer, and other commitments.
2. Immediate & Thorough Onboarding
Every new board member must be properly onboarded by the executive after their election/appointment but before their first board meeting. This includes their board notebook (paper or digital,) the organization’s mission, vision, core values, strategic plan, tutorial on how to understand the financials, bylaws, the last 3 months of minutes and last 3 months of financials. This equips the brand-new board member to be a prepared and engaged participant at their first board meeting.
3. Annual Board Development Training Workshop
It is important to provide annual board development training for all board members within a month or so of the new board’s first meeting. This is typically a 3-4 hour interactive workshop where, together, they learn all-things-governance such roles, responsibilities, obligations, legal, ethical, & fiduciary duties, as well as internal specifics such as dues and non-dues revenue, products and services offered, and industry best practices.
4. Get Them Actively Involved in Strategic Planning
Take at least one day per year to develop goals and strategies together so that the board has a hand in shaping the direction of the organization. Get offsite if you can to experience a fresh environment for creativity to flow. Use the services of a professional facilitator so that all board and staff can be participants. Review your strategic plan regularly so that it’s clear who is working on what, who is expected to help with which items, and what is being measured to gauge progress. It’s human nature for board members to support what they had a hand in crafting.
Make efforts to implement these 4 steps and you will be on your way to a higher performing board of directors. These 4 steps make room for clarity and accountability to replace ambiguity and apathy.