An engaged board is a forward-thinking and collaborative team that strives to put its expertise to use. Engaged board members feel motivated to work between their meetings, confidently collaborate to overcome challenges, and develop innovative plans to fulfill your mission. When you prioritize the board member experience, you’ll motivate them to do everything in their power to reach (and exceed) your nonprofit’s objectives.
Bringing on enthusiastic and highly-skilled board members is a solid first step to any board engagement strategy, but you’ll need to take extra steps to maintain and deepen that commitment.
At Boardable, we’ve supplied thousands of nonprofits with tools to centralize communication and make the most of their board members’ time. We’ve seen firsthand how a disorganized and disengaged board can derail a nonprofit’s plans, and we strive to help teams overcome challenges and become productivity powerhouses.
To help you stay on track, we’ve pulled together several tips and tricks for maximizing board engagement. We’ll explore these core board engagement topics:
- Why does board engagement matter?
- 8 Signs You Need to Re-Evaluate Your Board Engagement Strategy
- Board Engagement Strategies
Your board members volunteer their valuable time to make the world a better place through your nonprofit, so it’s crucial that they’re fully invested in their board experience. Let’s dive in so that you can invigorate your members and inspire them to be their best selves.
Why does board engagement matter?
Board engagement is essential to the health of any organization. Engaged boards are naturally more impactful because they’re willing to devote ample time to complete their duties and fulfill expectations. When fully engaged, board members will transform into your nonprofit’s best ambassadors, strategists, and all-around supporters.
An engaged team is much more knowledgeable and passionate about the organization, which can translate into a number of benefits such as:
- Increased opportunities for the organization
- Improved governance in the boardroom
- Better public relations
- More board recruitment opportunities
On the other end of the spectrum, a disengaged board will work against your plans, setting the organization up to fall short of its goals.
It’s not enough to demand more time from board members though; these individuals have to want to go above and beyond. Nurturing board engagement can be challenging, but the lack of it is one of the most common complaints from executive directors and boards themselves.
8 Signs You Need to Re-Evaluate Your Board Engagement Strategy
If you’ve noticed a decline in board engagement, it may be time to rethink your approach. Even before you directly ask board members about their engagement, there are several hints that indicate that board members are losing interest. Individuals who are not fully enthralled in their work may:
- Delay or even forget to carry out planned tasks. Each board member is responsible for carrying their own weight. When one person forgets to complete their assignments, it can throw everyone else off and delay organizational progress.
- Become bottlenecks, slowing board or committee momentum. A disengaged board member can become passive and stop generating new ideas. This general lack of engagement can be contagious, diminishing others’ momentum in the boardroom. This domino effect can impact the nonprofit’s initiatives.
- Forget to review meeting documents in advance. Reviewing documents ahead of time allows board members to come prepared with thoughtful insights and questions. Otherwise, everyone’s time will be wasted as ill-prepared board members struggle to skim documents during the meeting.
- Become spectators at meetings. Meetings are when your team brainstorms ways to maximize organizational impact, and poor participation levels can decrease productivity and negatively influence other attendees’ enthusiasm.
- Lose track of communication threads. Those who aren’t entirely engaged seldom feel motivated to respond between meetings, which can ultimately hold your entire team up when pursuing important initiatives.
- Ratchet down their donations or fundraising energy. Fundraising may be one of your board’s core responsibilities, and a passive approach won’t cut it. Poor board engagement may lead to a decline in revenue if your board members don’t step up to the plate with plenty of enthusiasm.
- Let public relations and promotional efforts lapse. Board members are the frontline advocates for your mission, and positive public relations will help your team flourish by increasing visibility for all the impactful work you’re doing.
- Miss fundraisers and key events. When it comes to fundraisers and special events, board members must show up and actively encourage participation. After all, it’s challenging to garner support amongst the general public when those closest to the organization aren’t seen showing support.
As you can see, a disengaged board can do more harm than good. Not only will someone’s lack of enthusiasm affect their own work, but it’ll also impact their fellow board members and the organization as a whole. This domino effect can ultimately work against your mission.
Board Engagement Strategies
Now that you’re aware of why board engagement is crucial, your next best step is to create a plan for improving board member engagement. Doing this involves some hands-on work on your part, but the payoff is long-term success. To help, we’ve pulled together eight surefire board engagement strategies, so you can properly cultivate these individuals into champions of your cause.
#1) Provide an exceptional onboarding experience.
Board engagement starts the moment you welcome a new member to your team. Just like you provide sufficient training for new staff members, you’ll want to provide an effective onboarding experience for your new board members.
We understand that time is a valuable resource, but spending time getting new board members up to speed is a worthwhile investment. Taking the time to welcome your team conveys that you value their experience and will stick with them even after the initial excitement of their new position wanes.
Provide information and expertise regarding your mission, your organization, and members’ roles, as well as the governance surrounding the nonprofit. Share resources they can absorb in their spare time, such as online resources or reading material, so they can understand why your organization pursues its mission on a deeper level.
With a thorough onboarding experience, new members start with a solid foundation and can engage in insightful discussions much faster.
#2) Establish an open line of communication.
The most engaged and effective nonprofit boards are the ones with detailed communication plans. Whether they’re in or between meetings, board members need to proactively collaborate in order to reach their objectives. While nonprofits have historically relied on email and phone calls, modern technology has changed the name of the game.
Maximize your board’s time together and their time apart by keeping the conversation going with board management tools like:
- Virtual meeting tools. Especially with current social distancing guidelines, many boards are turning to virtual meetings to encourage progress, but you aren’t limited to a basic video call anymore. With Boardable, you can achieve all your objectives with just one platform to video conference, share files, and record minutes.
- Messaging. Beyond your regular meetings, consistent communication is crucial to board engagement. Your team needs to remain connected between meetings, and messaging capabilities will allow board members to continuously collaborate instead of waiting until the next time they’re together.
Promote camaraderie among members further by hosting informal gatherings where board members can connect on a personal level. Some boards have a “buddy system” that pairs new board members with more senior ones. You may also consider hosting an annual retreat to get board members away from their typical environment, allowing them to think critically about your organization’s current standing.
#3) Evaluate board performance on a regular basis.
Consistently evaluating board performance allows nonprofits to make sure members are going above and beyond expectations. An assessment process measures how well boards handle critical responsibilities, such as engaging with investors and maintaining good relations with staff. This process can indicate whether your members are unengaged or lacking in any areas, providing your team with the opportunity to find new board engagement tactics.
Despite these benefits, BoardSource’s Leading with Intent survey found that only 58 percent of organizations use a formal assessment process. If you want to try out this board engagement strategy, consider these four common ways nonprofits go about evaluations:
- Self Evaluations: Ask each board member to reflect on what they’ve done for the organization and what they can do in the future. Then, come together for a discussion with the entire board to discuss improvement opportunities.
- Peer-to-Peer Assessments: With this approach, board members assess their individual performances and their peers’ performances. It may be best to keep reviews anonymous since some board members may be reluctant to publicly call out others’ problematic behavior.
- Executive Director Assessments: Have the executive director evaluate the board as a whole rather than assessing each board member individually. Board members will be able to decipher the director’s comments and take action without calling out any individuals.
- Third-Party Assessments: Receive an impartial opinion by hiring an outside consultant. This is a smart option if there are conflicting opinions about the board’s performance or if the board needs assistance in strengthening a particular area.
Once you understand current performance, you can begin to locate areas for improvement. If certain board members are less engaged, work with them to resolve that. If there are board members who have completely dropped their duties, it might be time for a tough conversation concerning whether they should stay on the board.
#4) Make volunteering and fundraising mandatory.
If your board needs a jolt of involvement quickly, try implementing one-off activities like a board-led volunteer day. This activity will encourage board members to meet outside the boardroom in a more casual, social environment where they bond as friends, not just colleagues.
As for fundraising, many board members often shy away even though it can be an important part of the job. It’s essential to communicate that you’re not asking them to donate per se, nor will you be hounding their networks for money. Instead, think of creative ways to involve board members in fundraising. Encourage board members to reach out to local leaders in the community or the media to promote your fundraisers, and share your campaigns on their social media.
Outside of one-off events, most nonprofits make volunteering and fundraising participation mandatory for their board members. This ensures every board member understands that these efforts are expected from the start. By requiring regular participation, board members will feel directly responsible for the success of your campaigns and boost their engagement.
RELATED: Turn your nonprofit board into fundraising professionals by exploring our board fundraising guide where you’ll learn helpful tips and tricks to share with your team.
#5) Streamline meeting planning and updates.
Your board meetings are when your team has highly collaborative discussions regarding the future of your nonprofit. The last thing you want is an ill-prepared meeting throwing them off their game and impacting board engagement.
Think about it this way: they already lead busy lives. They don’t want to spend all their free time nailing down a time for the monthly board meeting just to sit around in person while someone locates the previous meeting’s minutes.
Instead, streamline meeting preparation and boost engagement by implementing digital tools. With the right meeting tools in place, your board members will be more engaged and productive, which can ultimately increase the output and success of your organization.
Boardable’s dedicated tools can help your team spearhead these efforts with scheduling tools, an Agenda Builder, polling tools, and a helpful Task Manager to follow up on critical activities between meetings. That way, you can have a single source of truth for all your regular board meeting to-dos and can focus on maintaining board engagement during the meeting itself.
#6) Create a comfortable and inclusive environment.
Creating a welcoming environment for board members to share their ideas is a crucial component of board engagement. When board members don’t feel comfortable speaking up, a few individuals will wind up dominating the conversation, squashing others’ participation altogether.
Create a safe, inclusive place where even the “silent majority” members will be comfortable speaking up by trying out strategies such as:
- Set ground rules to establish how board meetings will operate. Invite questions, require participation, crack down on distractions, and let everyone know that all ideas are welcome. Make sure the group agrees to these rules before calling the meeting to order.
- Have one-on-one conversations with non-participating board members. Even after implementing these tactics, you may notice that some individuals still aren’t speaking up. Talk to them one-on-one to ask why they don’t participate and clarify that you and their fellow board members value their opinions.
People are invited to serve on a board because they bring something important to the table. Making the extra effort to be inclusive and welcoming will enrich your meetings and your decision making. Board member participation is an ongoing pursuit that you can influence with these tips.
#7) Consistently thank board members.
Your board brings so many gifts to the table, so let them know how much you appreciate them. Fatigue is common among nonprofit board members. They may be passionate about your cause, but they are working on your tasks amidst family and work commitments. That can drain anyone.
A little appreciation goes a long way. Be gracious when they donate, show up to events, and work alongside their fellow board members to spearhead key initiatives.
Take into consideration the personality of the board member. One might love a shoutout on social media for going above and beyond, while others might prefer a handwritten letter. Whatever you do, make it personal.
#8) Create a board engagement survey.
Soliciting feedback from your team can be immensely helpful when refining your board engagement strategy. The great thing about a survey is that no one will feel singled out when they’re all answering the same questions.
Today’s software makes it simple to create and distribute a survey, analyze responses, and keep track of follow-up. This is a fantastic opportunity to try out Boardable’s Polling tools. Find out what will keep the board invested by asking questions such as:
1. On a scale from 1 to 5, what level of preparation and participation do you dedicate to board meetings?
2. How well do you understand your role as a board member? Are expectations clear?
3. What would you change about the board meetings?
4. Could better organization, including online tools, help you manage tasks?
5. Do you think you could describe our mission and accomplishments in an elevator speech?
6. What should board members do more of? (Examples: contribute professional talents and resources, tap networks for donations, follow through on assigned tasks, brainstorm for campaigns)
7. What actions should our nonprofit take to keep developing and inspiring our board? (Examples: diversity of board recruits, virtual meeting options, or board education opportunities)
BONUS: What other thoughts and ideas do you have to improve nonprofit board engagement?
When it comes to creating a survey, keep it short and sweet. Then, provide a timely, detailed synopsis of the responses. Schedule a meeting to discuss the survey, and act on the board’s suggestions.
Survey results can effectively refocus and revitalize the board. At each step, link the board member’s perspectives to the organizational vision. Be sure to repeat this process at least once a year to identify emerging challenges. In the end, your board will thank you for it!
When it comes to developing a true culture of board engagement, most organizations have to embark on a considerable journey to get there. You want your board to be your biggest advocates, but sometimes, you get so busy that you forget to properly cultivate them into engaged champions of your cause.
Remember, the last thing you want is a bored board. All that does is waste their valuable potential!
Board engagement all starts with an effective onboarding experience, and it never truly ends until their terms are up. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to building and maintaining a well-attuned board, but the right board management tools will certainly help. From monthly meeting planning to daily communications, Boardable empowers nonprofit boards like yours with highly effective tools, so your team can focus on leading, not just managing.
So what are you waiting for? Implement the board engagement strategies we covered in this article, and you’ll notice that board members are much more immersed in their work and invested in your organization’s success.