Are you wondering where your board unicorn is? You know the one – every board meeting is well attended. Board members follow through on tasks. Committees are strong with clear goals. They even raise money for your cause! Shoot, people are asking how they can join your board because it has such a great reputation in town.
Here’s the thing: If you want an engaged board, YOU have to engage them.
It doesn’t happen organically without guidance and support. Have you looked at how your culture may be contributing to the problem?
Here are 3 ways you may be killing board engagement without even realizing it:
1. Miscommunication. How often do you communicate? About what? Who is doing the communicating? What communication channels do you use? Do you know each board member’s preference? A top complaint from board members is that they don’t get enough of the information they need. What’s your culture around this? And is all communication by email? From staff? Your board leaders can be doing some of the communicating and when it’s more personal from a peer, it’s usually more effective.
Tip: have a discussion at your next board meeting about this. Ask them what information they need; if they feel like they have access to the CEO and board chair; if they feel excluded from certain topics or think you’re fully transparent, etc. You may be surprised at what you learn.
2. Lack of Accountability. When your culture fails to uphold the idea of inspecting what you expect, it’s tough to earn your board’s full participation. I mean, what’s the point if no one cares whether things get done or not? Your volunteers are devoting their time, expertise and resources to your organization. They actually want to be held accountable! It’s your obligation to follow through and support them. If things fall between the cracks, that means they’re human and might appreciate a friendly reminder. They are not trying to ruin your day – your board members have good intentions.
Tip: the magic happens between the meetings. If your team isn’t asking board members for advice, and asking how you can best support them, and leveraging their talent and then following up on tasks, then you’re missing the boat. You may be surprised how simple it can be to increase engagement.
3. The Shutdown. Do you welcome a culture of inquiry? Is it ok to ask questions during meetings? Challenge assumptions? Suggest a new way of doing something? I recently witnessed a well-intentioned board president, who was committed to the agenda, shut down 2 board members who had legitimate clarifying questions because he wanted to end the meeting on time. The net effect was the resignation of one of them. If you don’t want passionate advisors or volunteers who are sharing their wisdom, you may be in the wrong business. Nonprofits are governed by volunteers and very often count on group process to arrive at the best decision.
Tip: whether it’s in the board room or at a coffee meeting with one board member, always allow time to ask them for feedback. Then be quiet and listen. You may be surprised how engagement increases when volunteers feel respected and valued.
Do you have concerns about the level of engagement you’re seeing from your board? Let’s figure out why and change that so you can get more done.