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5 Ways to Cause Board Members to Maintain Enthusiasm Throughout Their Board Service

By February 4, 2015September 10th, 2015Culture Change, Engaging Your Board

The theme of the year for this blog is: changing your story. Today let’s talk about how to change your board story.
Board Room
I spent the past few days creating a new training about how to recruit board amazing members for CharityHowTo. I waded through tons of terrific articles and one of the most common themes I kept reading about was staff wanting their board to be more “engaged.”

My answer is to engage you have to BE engaging.

The work of the board is NOT:

  • Running an efficient board meeting using Robert’s Rules of Order
  • Reading through pages of financial reports
  • Listening to one or two people, likely the board chair or executive director, read reports out loud

My view: The work of the board is to be a well-educated community ambassador of your organization and a committed action-oriented voice at board and committee meetings.

Jan Masaoka from Blue Avocado has some terrific musings and posts about board members. In one of my favorites, Ditch Your Board Composition Matrix, she reminds us to “focus on what people will do rather than what people are.”

To cause board members to maintain their enthusiasm takes a conscious effort by both the staff AND the board. I believe most every new board member shows up on their first day wanting to do great things.

Then, something happens. Your organizational culture takes hold of that new board member and they begin the slide down the slippery slope of being “just like everyone else.” So, you continue to have low attendance, lack of clarity about what you need/want the board to do, no clear understanding of programs or services, and certainly no accountability to help keep board members focused on the things they promised to do.

Many board members need a GPS-like guide to be great. It’s the job of the veteran board members and staff leadership to provide just that. Truly, your board members have skills and talents. And if we, as staff, have done our job, they know exactly how to put those skills to good use, because you’ve shown them the value of their time, their advice, and their financial contribution.

Board engagement is really no different than major gifts fundraising.

Here is my quick list of 5 ways to cause board members to maintain enthusiasm throughout their board service:

1. Infuse Your Mission into All Board Events/Meetings. Bring the faces of the people you serve to board meetings and other board related events via video, photo, or in person.
2. Utilize Ongoing Recognition. It’s old but true: Reward the behavior you are seeking. Applause, a mention in the enews or board minutes, shout outs via social media. . . there are tons of ways to provide board members with effective, cost-free, recognition.
3. Make it Fun. If you need me to explain this one, you may be in more trouble than I thought!
4. Teach them about the work you do. Keep it interesting. Share stats and information about WHY your services are needed in the community. But also make it real by doing #1 really well.
5. Build in accountability & measure activity. Use dashboards, interesting graphics and help me remember what I promised I would do. Take great notes at meetings that show me the actions I promised. Make those actions easily found on the first page. (Take a look at my meeting note taking sample here.)

I believe you get to choose the level of engagement your board delivers. And you do that with the behaviors you cause and settle for. Let me know how you are going to change YOUR board story.


  • tim pinder says:

    A really interesting piece and most timely as the UK Regulator of Social Housing NFPs increasingly talks about skills being autonomous with experience. I absolutely buy the fact that intelligent questioning and making sense of motivations, risks and outcomes for say building different housing types, doesn’t require a career in buidling that different housing type.
    I therefore love the phrase about focussing on what Board members Do rather than what they are.

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