I frequently hear concerns from board leaders and nonprofit executives about lack of board member engagement in their organizations. Details range from poor meeting attendance to failure to participate in committee work, events, or fundraising. While every board faces its specific engagement challenges, here are some general ideas to consider as you work to improve board member engagement in the upcoming year.
Five simple ways to improve board member engagement
Provide all members with a board member job description.
Just as we use job descriptions in our workplaces to clarify expectations, a written board member job description lays out what is expected from those who serve on the board. While some may assume that these responsibilities are self-evident, expectations can vary from organization to organization, depending upon the organization’s size, type, and activities. Being clear about what is expected of board members in your organization helps them follow-through on their responsibilities.
Provide all board members with the annual schedule of board/organizational events
Improve meeting and event attendance by providing schedules to board members well in advance. It’s not enough to say “board meetings are at 6 o’clock on the second Tuesday of each month.” Providing the specific dates, times, and locations of meetings and other organizational events for the upcoming year encourages board members to put these dates in their calendars and to plan their schedules accordingly.
Hold board member orientation
Orientation is a time to provide new members with the information that they need to be active board members. While it’s important to provide all pertinent organizational documents and information to new members, take care that they aren’t overwhelmed with details. Design a simple approach that overviews the basics of the organization and board responsibilities in a systematic and engaging way. Orientation helps board members develop a better understanding of the organization and their role in its success.
Take the time for a board retreat
Nonprofit governance is a group activity; it is important that the group works well together. A board retreat not only provides time for the board to plan for the upcoming year, it also provides an opportunity for board members to work together and get to know one another better. Whether it’s full day or just a few hours, a board retreat can help board members build stronger connections to one another and to the organization.
We all tend to disengage from situations in which we do not feel needed, wanted, or appreciated. This is just human nature. Unfortunately, it’s also human nature to get so engrossed in a project or activity that we forget to recognize and thank the people around us. It’s important that board leaders and nonprofit executives find genuine ways to recognize and thank board members for their time, energy, and service. Things like a simple thank you from the board president at the beginning or end of a board meeting or an appreciative email to a board committee for a job well-done helps remind members that their participation is important and valued.
Committing to a culture of engagement
Most board members come into our organizations with a strong sense of commitment and passion. Over time, board systems and culture can dampen this enthusiasm. As you build upon these ideas, develop approaches to help your organization strengthen your members’ commitment and build a board culture fosters engagement.
When faced with specific situations of flagging enthusiasm and engagement from members, consider the following:
- Do board members know what is currently expected of them?
- Do board members understand how this current activity/question is related to the purpose and goals of the organization?
- Do board members feel connected to others in the organization?
- Do board members feel appreciated for the time, energy, and ideas they bring to the board table?
Finding ways to increase understanding, build connections, and recognize the skills and expertise that members bring to the issue at hand can help your organization see more engagement from its board members.
A version of this post first appeared in the Corridor Business Journal.