You know the one. They show up to board meetings- sometimes. Or they say they’ll do some stuff but there’s a 50-50 chance it will get done. Or they DO have good intentions but they haven’t been truly plugged in for a while. Or they’re the first one to leave a meeting. Or they stopped answering your emails.

They must want to leave the board, right?
Or they must not care about your mission anymore, right?
Or they must be upset about something, right?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and make those assumptions. If you don’t know, you don’t know.

So here’s the secret. Ask questions.

It’s that simple. Think about that board member. When was the last time you sat with them and had a real conversation? Not sure where to start?

Try some open-ended questions from this list:

  • How are you enjoying your board experience?
  • What do you think of our goals?
  • How are things going with your committee (or project or whatnot)?
  • How well do you know the other board members?
  • What inspires you to serve?
  • What else do you need to serve well?
  • How well do you think we’re delivering on our mission?
  • What might make your board experience even more meaningful to you?

Each of these questions is designed to learn more about what motivates this volunteer, what they appreciate most or where they might have suggestions for improvement. And what you do with their answers is where the real magic is. For example,

When someone tells you they don’t know the other board members well, keep asking questions and find out who they have the most in common with, then determine how you can connect them. If a person doesn’t have strong relationships with their peers, it’s tough to be motivated to show up.

When a person is passionate about your mission but doesn’t know how to talk about it, that can be demoralizing or awkward and not all of us are comfortable asking for help. And it’s not that difficult to fill in those gaps of information so they gain confidence.

When you take time to try to understand the WHY behind what’s going on, the real reason why a board member is disengaged, just the act of talking with them and really listening is likely to start re-engaging them!

And occasionally, you may have a board member who is burned out or otherwise wanting to step away from the board. That’s ok! Ask questions.

Find out what they liked best; what they would have changed; how they will stay involved with your organization; and most importantly – who else might they recommend to fill their seat.

Your board members are wonderful people with competing priorities and the best of intentions. When they disengage, they aren’t trying to ruin your life. They may just need to be heard.

That investment of your time is priceless.