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Defining Board Engagement Helps Boards Understand How To Best Measure Engagement And Improve Decision-making Overall

Defining and measuring volunteer board engagement


These days, the term ‘engagement’ is commonly used in just about every conversation regarding employees in the workforce. While it’s become an accepted part of our organizational vernacular, it’s especially important in the context of board members and administrators in non-profit/mission-driven organizations.

Why does this matter? Board engagement is essential to the health of every mission-driven organization because it enhances the way a board functions. According to Glue Up, “Engaged board members create impact and make organizations more meaningful. Since they are willing to give their best performance and give ample time to meet expectations, they can transform the way organizations work and improve their operations.”

Defining and measuring volunteer board engagement cautions, “Don’t confuse board engagement with interference. Directors must maintain their independence and respect management’s role. Engaged boards must balance independent thinking with active engagement to give management the benefit of directors’ insight.”

The responsibilities of a board are many from setting and implementing policy, to fundraising and community accountability. When individuals become part of the fabric of an organization by serving on the board, the hope is they will be fully committed to actively delivering on its mission.

Charles Dahan, an expert in helping organizations define and maximize engagement, describes engagement as a relationship between an organization and individuals, measured by the investment individuals make to strengthen the organization, ensure its long-term viability, increase positive sentiment and progressively increase future investment.

To achieve optimal engagement, every mission-driven organization needs to overcome some basic challenges inherent in most boards. Like any structure involving individuals, no two people are the same.

From varying levels of commitment and experience to communication styles and time constraints, board members can often be at odds with each other simply based on these differences. Or long-time board members may be resistant to new ideas from younger members. In other cases, people decide to join a board simply because it sounds cool — but they don’t truly understand the work and commitment that’s required.

Board engagement is part art and part science, and it never ends. Rather, it is a fluid process with discrete components and steps. Our “7 rules to board engagement” guide offers frameworks and best practicesto aid board administrators, executives and directors in their efforts toward the elusive goal of engaging and elevating the effectiveness of volunteer boards. Download the guide now to get actionable steps to help enhance board member engagement.


A deeper dive into types of engagement

Board chairs and administrators can begin the process of maximizing board potential by first understanding the three types of board director engagement — psychological engagement, professional engagement and tangible engagement.

1. Psychological engagement

Psychological engagement is the relationship that board directors perceive to have with their organization — giving their attention to something, caring about it, being dedicated to it and feeling an emotional connection to it. Having a psychological engagement increases the likelihood that board members will make tangible investments in the organization.

2. Professional engagement

Board membership can offer numerous avenues for leadership skills development, networking and mentorship. These opportunities can enhance not only the members role on the board, but also their professional life if they are employed.

3. Tangible engagement

Occasionally, a board member’s psychological commitment to an organization (warm feelings and loyalty) does not translate into action or tangible engagement. As Dahan explains, transforming psychological engagement into long-term tangible behavior that fosters the board’s mission is the key to maximizing board director potential.

Measuring board engagement

We’ve established the value of board member engagement, but how can we measure it? Do you know if your board members are carefully reviewing board agendas and materials? Are they communicating securely? Are they participating in meetings or external events? Involved with donors and fundraising activities?

Board management software, such as BoardEffect, provides a way for board chairs and administrators to measure the performance and investment of time and resources that individual board directors contribute to their boards. For example, the software tracks log-in times so that the administrator can see how often trustees log in and how much time they spend there.

The solution also tracks whether board directors are reading their messages and how often they read them. Using the software can help leaders gauge board member commitment and the effectiveness of programs and policies. BoardEffect also offers advanced security features and encryption tools to protect sensitive data and communications from potential cyberthreats.

Keep in mind, as you define your concept of engagement that you clearly delineate between different definitions, particularly when looking at how to measure engagement. Always attempt to utilize behavioral measures — those that are not “invasive,” and do not require additional participation by the respondent — before indirect means of measurement, such as surveys.

However, surveys are also a useful way to measure engagement and individual performance, and BoardEffect offers convenient survey tools for posing questions to measure those three types of engagement: psychological, professional and tangible.

Here are some sample questions that could help you assess each type of engagement:

Psychological engagement

  • Emotional connection: How connected do you feel to our organization’s mission and values?
  • Motivation: What motivates you to continue serving as a board member in this organization?
  • Satisfaction: How satisfied are you with your role and the contributions you are able to make?
  • Pride: How proud are you to be associated with our organization?
  • Commitment: How committed are you to the long-term success of our organization?

Professional engagement

  • Skill utilization: To what extent do you feel that your professional skills are being utilized in your role as a board member?
  • Professional growth: Have you had opportunities to grow professionally through your role on the board?
  • Networking: How valuable have you found the networking opportunities provided through your board membership?
  • Influence: How much do you think your professional insights are considered in board decisions?
  • Knowledge sharing: Are there sufficient opportunities for you to share your professional expertise with the organization?

Tangible engagement

  • Participation: How often do you attend board meetings and other important events
  • Volunteering: Besides board meetings, in what other activities or committees do you participate?
  • Resource mobilization: Have you been involved in efforts to mobilize resources (funds, partnerships, etc.) for the organization?
  • Advocacy: How often do you advocate for your organization’s interests in your personal or professional circles?

Real-life examples of using technology effectively for board engagement

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, with nearly 10,000 members, turned to BoardEffect to streamline processes and promote more effective communication and engagement for more than 20 boards, committees and groups. BoardEffect provided a single source for all information – board packets, documents and a straightforward process for tracking RSVPs — resulting in a 90 – 95% success rate.

Savvy administrators (and new board members) can make use of certain features offered by board management software such as BoardEffect to help make onboarding and ongoing board engagement even more effective. For example, Presbyterian SeniorCare sets their new board members up for success with a structured and streamlined onboarding process. Their administrator also says that engaging board members outside of meetings is critical.

Elizabeth Thompson, Executive Assistant to the President & Corporate Secretary, said, “I have received so much positive feedback from new members by making the process self-guided and virtual. One new trustee said, ‘this was the best orientation I ever had.’”

Tips for engaging board members

A truly engaged board of directors is essential to the health and well-being of your mission-driven organization. “When truly engaged, board members will become your nonprofit’s best ambassadors, advocates, strategists and all-around supporters,” reports the National Council of Nonprofits.

“When truly engaged, board members will become your nonprofit’s best ambassadors, advocates, strategists and all-around supporters” – National Council of Nonprofits

Here are some ways to begin engaging board members  — all of which can be supported by, monitored and tracked with BoardEffect.

  • Start with good recruiting
  • Define roles and expectations clearly
  • Communicate effectively
  • Acknowledge board member contributions
  • Invest in morale-boosting activities
  • Turn board members into true advocates
  • Ensure board meetings are well-structured and efficient
  • Provide a platform for strategic discourse

As you tackle the challenge of engaging your board members, you can rely on BoardEffect, our board management solution for better collaboration, secure communications, safe data storage and many other features. BoardEffect allows you to implement these necessary engagement strategies and also effectively measure the results.

Get started with BoardEffect today. Request a demo.

Ellen Glasgow

Ellen Glasgow serves as General Manager, Mission Driven Organizations for Diligent Corporation, the leader in modern governance providing SaaS solutions across governance, risk, compliance, audit and ESG. In her role, Ellen oversees the commercial team, which includes new and expansion sales, marketing, and sales development for the Diligent Governance solutions that support Mission Driven Organizations (Nonprofits, Associations, Education, Community Healthcare & Government).

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