Our biggest problem is that the board isn’t active!

Have you ever heard those words coming out of your mouth before? If so, you are probably searching for ways to empower and motivate your board. Engaging board members without inviting chaos can be tricky.

Nothing would make you happier than to see individual board members demonstrate some personal initiative on behalf of your cause…right?

Before you light a fire around engaging board members, it is important to establish clear guidelines on appropriate ways for them to work with and represent the organization. Here are some tips on how to keep the board active and accountable.

The top three complaints Funding for Good hears from organization’s who have “ACTIVE” boards include:
  1. The board is not ORGANIZED
  2. The board is not EFFICIENT
  3. The board does not COMMUNICATE well with staff or among themselves.

To avoid those pitfalls, clear guidelines are a must!

Check out the Top 5 Ways for Engaging Board Members WithOUT Inviting Chaos:

1. Complete a “Board vs. Staff Responsibilities” Training Session

Remember that there are many reputable resources that share best practices! Your board members don’t get to “make this up or decide who does what” at a meeting!

 2. Ensure that All Event/Projects/Tasks Directly Align with Strategic Plan Goals and Outcomes

If you don’t have a strategic plan, that is a definite area for development. If you do have one, make sure it is up to date, relevant, and that board/staff all agree and understand that the document literally represents the organization’s current work plan. Engaging board member with an agreed upon strategic plan is critical.

3. Establish Effective Communication Between the Board Chair and Executive Director

Some nonprofit pros have compared the board chair and executive director relationship to twin engines on a plane. This image reminds us that the Board Chair and Executive Director must be working in complete balance and harmony. When one engine fails, the entire plane can go down.
When communication breaks down at the leadership level, the entire organization is at risk.

Yes, the Executive Director should be offering regular reports/updates to the board at regularly scheduled meetings. However, the Board Chair is the first point of contact for important communication and preparing to present action items to the executive committee and full board.

4. Equip Board Members with Engagement Kits

Believe it or not, one of the chief complaints of board members is that they are NOT as active as they would like to be because no one has given them anything specific to do. This forces board members to become passive or prompts them to “go rogue” and create their own ways to support the organization!

The Executive Director should work with program staff to outline clear ways that board members can engage in the day to day activities and make sure board engagement opportunities are shared in a timely manner. The Board Chair and committee chairs should work with the Executive Director to outline tasks that committees can address. These documents should be included in a more comprehensive for board members so that everyone is on the same page!

For a free board engagement checklist, visit our Free Stuff page later this week, under the Board Resources section. We are always adding new and exciting tools there for you to use and grow your skill set. 

5. Evaluate and Maintain Accountability 

Performance reviews are common in the workplace, but nonprofits tend to overlook regular evaluations. Most board chairs and Executive Directors are uncomfortable evaluating the board’s performance or demanding accountability because board members are “volunteers” who “don’t have to be here.” We will address this concept in another blog, but for the moment, it is important to understand that every board of directors conduct annual reviews of the Executive Director and the board. Just as the board participates in evaluating the Executive Director’s performance, it is helpful to gain the staff’s perspective on how the board is performing.

An annual review might be perfect for organization’s that enjoy a strong board, but if you are in an intentional “board development” process, quarterly reviews of the board are a great way to reinforce common goals, measure progress, hold the board accountable to each other and the organization.

We hope these ideas are helpful as you work to grow your organization for good through capacity building, education, and implementation of policies and procedures that create accountability and norms throughout your leadership.