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Set Board Member Expectations To Improve Engagement
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Serving on Nonprofit Boards Isn’t Retirement: 4 Steps to Increase Board Engagement


Recently, while attending a party for a local community group, I heard someone say, “I’m looking to just retire and start serving on nonprofit boards so I can relax.”

While this statement almost made me choke on my drink— I realized that many people view serving on boards as “retirement.” What’s concerning is that many current board members share this mindset and therefore take a lackadaisical approach when it comes to supporting the nonprofits they serve.

To maintain an engaged and effective board, nonprofit organizations must set clear standards and expectations for both current and future board members. Here, I’ll explore four steps you can take to ensure governing members don’t treat your organization as just another retirement hobby.

Step 1: Clearly Outline Expectations

Many nonprofits take a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to setting expectations for their boards. For example, they might compromise and accept a prospective board member’s availability and commitment level rather than requiring a certain level of engagement.

When recruiting new members, boards must set clear standards and expectations for engagement to ensure that the board is constantly forward-thinking and dedicating adequate time to the organization.

I know many nonprofit leaders who are frustrated by how their boards govern. Some want to be more aggressive with the growth of their organizations, some want their boards to be more involved in improving organizational operations, and some wish that their boards were more engaged in fundraising efforts.

To avoid this frustration, it’s important to establish a clear picture of what you consider an effective board member, including the traits they possess and the issues you want them to prioritize. Then, focus on recruiting members who meet those criteria.

Step 2: Keep Board Members Accountable

Interacting with board members can often feel like herding cats: they tend to be scattered all over the place, and the time they dedicate to the organization makes staff wish for more, while the members themselves feel like they can’t accomplish anything.

This is why boards should implement a system that keeps board members accountable between meetings. Creating a to-do list for board members increases efficiency and establishes a clear line of communication, so members always know what is expected of them.

With this tracking system in place, deeper engagement will naturally follow, and boards will be better able to identify which members aren’t committed to the organization.

Step 3: Social Commitment

Board members can be wonderful assets to organizations, but oftentimes, their presence is underutilized. Setting an expectation for board members to attend events outside of board meetings can improve event success and lead to a more effective board.

Talking with others about the organization, actively serving their community, and gaining hands-on experience that shows how their decisions impact the organization are a few ways members can increase their engagement.

Additionally, board members are often very well connected within their communities. LinkedIn can be an excellent resource for identifying individuals and services your board members may have access to in their networks.

The impactful introductions that may result from these connections can help nonprofits avoid the fatigue of drafting yet another email to ask for assistance.

Step 4: Honor Your Board Members’ Time

Time is everyone’s most precious resource; no matter who you are, you get the same 24 hours each day as everyone else. That’s a fact you must remember when your board members allocate time to your organization because the time they dedicate is taken from something else.

Yet, many organizations have information all over the place, which causes their board members to lose valuable time just searching for the information they need.

If you expect an engaged board, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to take the action you expect.

One of the simplest ways to do this is by leveraging technology to create a single resource where your board members can go to efficiently honor their commitments.

Find the Right Technology for Your Board

Delegating tasks and clearly communicating your expectations for each board member can easily be done within a board portal software like BoardEffect, a Diligent Brand.

To help you find the best board management solution for your nonprofit organization, we have created a checklist, that will ensure you get a tool that improves your board’s effectiveness and positively impacts your organization.

Theresa Sintetos

Content Strategist and Operations Manager with six years of growth in the same company, moving up from social media specialist to executive strategy and director of operations. Skilled in research, writing and editing broad range of content.

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