That’s right. There are things your nonprofit board members aren’t sharing with you, and it might only be in their subconscious. And as you move from priority to priority, you may be missing opportunities to ask for their feedback. So I’m here to help.
Here are 3 things your board members would probably say if you asked:
1. “I’ll do more if you ask me for something specific.” Surprised? Too often I hear staff say, “I can’t ask them to do that; they’re so busy. They’re only volunteers.” Really?
Assuming you’ve recruited well, your board members are there because the work you do matters to them and they know it’s changing your community for the better. They want to do work that supports your mission.
And while you shall not take advantage of them, sitting back and presuming how they want to use their time isn’t fair. You have a responsibility to let them know what needs to get done and then enroll their expertise and motivation to get it done.
Opportunity for feedback: it might be revealing to ask this question in a board meeting – “What else could/would you do that we haven’t asked you to do?” Or ask them individually and you may discover some internal motivation and interests you never knew about before!
If you’d like your board members to be more engaged, you must engage them.
2. “Your meetings are boring.” Your volunteers aren’t serving on your board because they have nothing else to do. So don’t waste their time! Look at your last 6 agendas. How much time was spent on informational items versus important discussion and/or action items? Most? None?
Here’s the 3 must-haves for your agendas (board or committee meetings):
- A mission moment or testimonial that connects your board members to your cause in a compelling way. They don’t get to see your mission at work very often, so bring it to them and remind them of the big picture.
- At least one significant discussion or action item. Consider structuring the agenda around your organizational goals; then it’s easy for board members to see how every item ties to the long term plan and moves your work forward.
- Include social time. If you can do it just before or after the meeting, great. If you have early morning meetings and everyone is rushing off afterwards, include a few minutes in the actual meeting for a team building activity or other interaction that allows them to get to know each other better. If it’s already a tight group, then I don’t need to tell you how much they appreciate the peer relationships.
Opportunity for feedback: at the end of every meeting, ask 2 questions either via a form, text into a real-time poll or whatever method works for you. Ask them what they valued most about the meeting and what they would change. Allow for additional comments also (e.g. I will always remember the board member who let me know he would prefer chocolate chip cookies vs oatmeal raisin).
3. “I want to be held accountable.” The quickest way to have board members disengage is to ask them to do something and sit back and wait. And wait. Or not pay attention to whether the assignment gets done at all. Whether it’s related to fundraising, committee work, outreach, etc., set up how you will monitor progress. This is a wonderful opportunity to develop leaders on the board and spread out some responsibility too.
- You may decide to create a dashboard highlighting key success indicators that gets shared at meetings.
- You could assign oversight to a committee and they report back to the board on predetermined benchmarks.
- You may send out weekly progress throughout the duration of a project to celebrate success and inspire participation.
- You may get more traction by following up with individuals between meetings and asking questions to be sure they have what they need to be successful.
- And a best practice for all boards is to conduct a year end evaluation of the board’s performance as well as individual satisfaction.
Opportunity for feedback: as mentioned in these bullets, there are several ways to invite discussion on projects and tasks. Just decide what will work best for your team and culture and then follow up. Remember…you can only expect what you inspect.
Bottom line – you know what happens when you assume. Whether you’re staff or a board member, be sure you’re all on the same page and take time to elicit feedback from your board – start with questions about these 3 things.