LinkedIn Question: How to Get Your Board More Engaged

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LinkedIn Question: How to Get Your Board More Engaged

There was a question recently posted on the Nonprofit Governance Group on LinkedIn: "Do any of you have creative ideas on how to get your board members more engaged?" I decided to elaborate on my response more thoroughly here. 

Everyone has their own philosophy on the role of the non-profit Board and individual Board members, here's mine.

The very first principle I advise my clients (who are generally officers and staff), is that the Executive Director be on the board themselves and make sure they're on the side of the majority. I've seen way too many palace coups by a Board faction--typically soon after a founder has built up something worth expropriating. Some officers believe the board should make hands-on management decisions. I do not share this view. This is a topic that can be discussed at length, but to summarize, I believe the role of the board is to select the E.D. and other top officers, help with fundraising, and set long-term goals and strategy, but leave the day-to-day management decisions to the E.D. and the staff he or she chooses. However, it is fine to have committees, such as an Executive or Fundraising Committee, that might become more involved--as long as they are adding value and not eroding the authority of the E.D.

Secondly, every board member serves for a different reason. This is why I do not recommend a giving amount requirement. However, every board member should fulfill at least one of the 4Gs, at a minimum: Give money, Get money, Govern, or Get off. But even those expectations are a little too restrictive--you might want to have a board member who is prominent in their field and therefore promotes organizational credibility, same with a noted academic. Having a board member who is also on the board or the staff of a private foundation is ideal, even if just to serve as an insider conduit to funding. 

It's really not possible, in my experience, to "get a board more engaged." They are volunteers (usually), and they're not going to be engaged more than they want to be. This is why board member terms (preferably staggered), are so essential. If a board member is not fulfilling one of the first 3Gs--Give or Get money or Govern, or provide credibility--then they should Get off the board, and be replaced by someone who will. While this should be performed with sensitivity, do not be afraid to replace disengaged board members.

I'll discuss how to find engaged board members in a future post.

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