Rethink Board Engagement

“Our board members are not meeting expectation!” It’s a common complaint of nonprofit leaders.

As a speaker, I’m frequently asked to address this topic.

Typically the concerned organizations have a pattern of specific actions that are not being performed, even when turnover occurs.

If board member inactivity challenges your organization, here are two strategies for rethinking how to approach board engagement.

Clarify Expectations

Begin with questioning whose expectations they are. If the same performance needs continuously go unmet, then it’s likely board members do not accept them as their responsibility.

If your board is composed of busy corporate or community leaders, it’s possible they don’t consider the tasks to be a worthwhile use of their time.

If the board has a history of not addressing certain responsibilities, consider moving those tasks to others, such as non-board volunteers or staff.

Board members are valuable assets. Develop their scope of involvement accordingly. What are the most important priorities you want them to be engaged with?

When setting expectations, consider taking an inclusionary approach with current board members in that decision making process. When approaching new prospects, make expectations clear to them.

Improve Communications in the Recruitment Process

Sure, you’re communicating about expectations, but if the message isn’t getting the desired action, evaluate the effectiveness of how it’s delivered. Change your approach accordingly.

Performance expectation should be a part of the discussion with board prospects, continued during orientation, and continuously reinforced by the board chair.

During initial conversation about expectations, don’t assume individuals have complete understanding about what their role will involve. BoardSource surveys repeatedly report challenges with board members not having adequate knowledge about their responsibilities.

Confirm acceptance and commitment to perform requested tasks so that it is realistic to expect the board member to meet a desired performance level. That confirmation also creates an opportunity for accountability.

Regularly reevaluating expectations and communications will help you identify needed changes and reduce frustration with non-performing board members.

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