Nonprofit Board Members As Mushrooms?

Does communication with your board members leave them feeling like mushrooms – kept in the dark and covered with manure?

Board members’ not performing as expected is a constant complaint from nonprofit leaders.

My survey of nonprofit board members to solicit reasons why they don’t do what they’re supposed to do identified several factors that contribute to a lack of performance.

Chief among them was poor communication. In fact board members named communication-related issues as a primary cause of the most performance-inhibiting issues.

Examples of poor communication ranged from flawed timing to the feeling of being mislead.

Board members expressed frustration about lack of information, being caught by surprise, and not being listened to.

The seriousness of the need to improve communication with board members cannot be overstated.

Why? Because in any relationship, positive and effective communication is essential.

If your organization struggles with board member performance, reexamine your approach to communication.

Here are five actions for turning communication from poor to positive:

  • Be upfront in your recruitment process about expectations. For example, don’t assume board prospects understand and accept that raising funds is their responsibility.
  • Consider that people process information in different ways. Some may like spread sheets while others may prefer charts, graphs, and pictures. When sending out documents, offer a choice of electronic and hard copy versions.
  • Schedule the release of information to allow enough time for digesting important material. Advance distribution also shows consideration for board members’ busy schedules.
  • Appreciate the value of in-person communication. Often email, printed materials, reports presented to a group, and even telephone calls don’t have the same impact as a one-on-one conversation.
  • The most important element of good communication is listening. Board members need to feel that their opinions are wanted and respected.

The range of examples board members cited regarding dissatisfaction with communication is an indication that this critical foundation for relationships merits periodic reassessment.

Don’t treat board members like mushrooms. Communicate effectively. Do your part to enable them to perform as you want them to.

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