Dani Robbins is the Founder & Principal Strategist at Non Profit Evolution located in Columbus, Ohio. I’ve invited my good friend and fellow non-profit consultant to the first Wednesday of each month about board development related topics. Dani also recently co-authored a book titled “Innovative Leadership Workbook for Nonprofit Executives” that you can find on Amazon.com.
It’s a new year, which is always a great time to take a look at processes and systems. I especially encourage you to look at the level of engagement of your Board. They are — or should be — your biggest donors and your best ambassadors. Are they?
One of the most obvious signs that a Board is disengaged is when you’re experiencing quorum issues. If you routinely have challenges with not having enough Board members in the room to make decisions, I recommend you take a look at how your board was built and how it is being developed.
Is your Board built intentionally?
Intentionally looks like this:
There is a Board Development (also called nominating or governance) Committee that assesses the strength of your current Board, looks at the gaps, and puts together a list of prospects that are later vetted and voted upon, to fill those gaps. The committee also plans for officer succession, Board education and evaluation.
Unintentionally looks like this:
A Board member invites someone to join the Board without a discussion with the Board Development Committee as to what the Board needs, or what the expectations for service are. The person is not vetted, or told of the commitment required. There is no formal process that is followed, no education and no evaluation. Yet, the person is voted upon and joins your Board.
Once the Board is in place, regardless of if it was intentional or not, the next question is:
Is your Board engaged and are members being developed?
The vast majority of Board members are in the room for most meetings; you have 100% Board giving; each member acts as an ambassador in the community; and your events and public meetings are well attended by members who bring friends and colleagues. The Board understands the organization’s mission, programs and impact; participates in robust discussions; and actively seeks ways to support the Executive Director and the organization.
Disengagement, on the other hand, looks like this:
People stop coming to meetings, which results in quorum issues. They stop coming to events. They stop volunteering for things. They stop giving or supporting the organization.
Once your Board becomes disengaged, quorum issues, which maybe the most obvious, are only the tip of the iceberg. The problems underneath the surface include a lack of understanding of some or all of the following:
- their role,
- the executive director’s role,
- the finances,
- the mission and strategic vision for the organization, and
- how programs support that vision.
By now you may be wondering about the level of engagement on the Board you serve.
- Are Board and committee meetings productive, engaging and worth the time to attend?
- Does the Executive Director meet individually, at least annually, with Board members?
- Is there a plan that everyone is aware of and working toward?
- Are there strategic and generative discussions happening in the boardroom?
- Is there meaningful work for individual board members to do?
If the answer to any of these questions is “NO” or “I don’t know,” then I encourage you to put a plan in place to move your answers to “YES”. Talk to your Board members individually and ask about engagement. Ask about how they would like to be engaged, why they joined the Board and how you can make their experience more meaningful.
For the organizations with which I work I encourage:
- a written plan detailing an intentional process to build and develop the board;
- annual retreats to set or re-commit to strategic goals;
- board training on everything from how to read the financials, to raise money, to the role and responsibilities of the Board; and
- an annual evaluation process that assesses individual members as well as the entire board against the expectations and the organization’s aspirations.
Board engagement is critical to building an organization that moves the needle and impacts the community!