Each year you work hard to bring on new board members who will help you do your important mission work. They’re smart, eager, connected and ready to roll! The excitement is palpable and they jump in with both feet!

And then something happens. At some point, most board members’ productivity slows down a bit. Like a receding tide, you see them moving away and out of reach. But you still need them! The community is counting on all of you. How can you keep them where the action is, focused on the right things, leveraging their unique gifts?

Several years ago, even as a seasoned Executive Director, I stopped paying attention to a veteran board member because I just assumed he was still feeling valued and doing meaningful volunteer work.  After all, he had been with us for over 6 years.  Then one day I turned around and he handed me his resignation.  I had no idea he had lost interest and was moving on.  He hadn’t spoken up and I wondered why not.

Require board members to speak up! Yes, you’ve given them an orientation and helped coach them on the ins and outs and culture of the organization when they first joined. But you also might not know what they don’t know that early on. We all realize that open communication generally creates a more positive and productive environment, so set up simple ways of knowing if your board members are doing ok and are still satisfied with their involvement.

Here are 3 quick and easy steps you can take to encourage board members to speak up:

1. Enroll a board member or two to serve as Champions among their peer circles. Don’t over complicate it. Just ask them to check in with a couple of board members from time to time to see how they are enjoying their experience. Maybe start with ones who seem to be drifting away.  Part of your role is leadership development. Not only do you not have to do all the work, but this is a way to involve others who have great influence with their peers.

2. Encourage board members to reflect on what matters to them most in regard to their service. Dr. Debra Beck wrote a great article about her “service bottom line.” Once they have acknowledged what they are looking to get out of board service, ask them to speak up and share it so you can support them in achieving it.

3. Have a conversation with individual board members without an agenda. When was the last time that happened? Just ask about their dog, find out when their next vacation is, how that challenge at work is going, etc. This is simple relationship building and sometimes we’re just too darn “busy” to focus on our most precious assets – our people. Time to slow down and chat.

Why does all this matter?

When you have a shared leadership structure like nonprofits do, teamwork is vital to success. And when the team is humming along together:
* Your meetings run smoother
* Your action items actually get completed
* You raise more money
* You have more ambassadors telling the story of your good work in the community
* You serve more people because you’re running more efficiently

All of us can get distracted or lose motivation from time to time. It’s tough to maintain a high level of participation over long stretches. Ask your board members to tell you what they need – in the beginning, middle and end of their term. And remind them they have a responsibility to share their ideas, questions and concerns.

Most of us aren’t mind readers so if you need something, dear board members, please speak up!

Want to know more about how to recruit, orient and onboard for better board engagement? Save the date and attend my free webinar on 2/23 at 11:00 PST. We’ll have you work more deeply on how to maintain connection with your key volunteers. Webinar details to come.