Hey board members: “Sit – Lay Down – Roll Over!”

Have you ever been at a meeting of your board of directors, looked around the table as they methodically plowed through the agenda, and come to the conclusion that no one was really engaged? Maybe you thought … “Ugh! They’re just sleep walking through the board meeting and regurgitating whatever had been fed to them in the days prior to the meeting.”

A few weeks ago, a non-profit friend of mine sent me a similar Facebook message with an interesting question:

“While on a CEO call today at a rather large, rather highly respected law firm, I noticed that the ‘Head Cheese’ stated (more than once) that the partners and associates in his firm ‘sit’ on non-profit boards.  It struck me that they have the expectation to sit, not SERVE on boards.  Attorneys are notoriously conscious of the words they choose to use. So, it struck me as interesting the first time it came out of his mouth.  Then he said it again.  And again.  What can we do to help shift that mentality? To help professionals and individuals with the means to give that it is a SERVICE to the greater good, not just a spot to occupy around a conference room table?”

I thought this was a GREAT observation! It conjured up the image of my dog, Betrys (who is the featured picture in today’s blog post), sitting around a non-profit boardroom table. Being an obedient dog (most of the time), I imagined her doing exactly what she was told by the executive director and agency staff.

I highly doubt that any of us would like a boardroom full of obedient dogs responsible for the future of our non-profit organizations.  However, I am left wondering “how many of our non-profit organizations have constructed boards with volunteers whose expectation is to just ‘sit through meetings’ and occasionally pitch-in when told they are needed to do something?”

So, out of curiosity, I put together an online survey yesterday and emailed it out to 32 random non-profit board volunteers in my address book. I asked them questions about their agency’s written board development plan. I also shared the Facebook message from early in this blog post and asked them how they would answer my friend’s question. Over the next few days as I collect responses, I will share them with you here in hopes that we can all learn from each other.

In the meantime, please use the comment box below to weigh-in with what you think the answer to my friend’s question should be. What do you do at your non-profit organization to ensure you don’t have a bunch of dogs sitting around your boardroom table? How do you prospect new board members? What criteria do you use to evaluate those prospects? What does your recruitment process look like? Is there an orientation for new recruits? Do board volunteers get ‘evaluated’ on an annual basis and what does that look like? What role (if any) do donors play in your board development process? Is there a role for donors here?

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC


  1. Today’s Non-profit Board Members have expectations, and they want ‘outcome measurement’. That’s why its O.K., to expect a signed “Statement of Understanding”, prior to becoming a member of the POWER BOARD!

    This board alignment, along with the evaluation process, allows for the positive successes, we all aspire too: balanced budgets, gratification of being part of something that is worthwhile…and having fun!

    1. Thanks, Bob! It is great to hear from you especially on this subject. If you have any board volunteer evaluation samples for the readers that you can point to online, please feel free to provide a link. I hope all is well for you and your wife out their in Arizona! Stay cool. LOL

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