Three Traits of Highly Engaged Boards

By Michael Davidson, Board Coach

According to a new national survey of nonprofit leaders, when it comes to board engagement, the glass is half (or at least a quarter) full. Executives acknowledge their board members’ passion for the mission, but say directors are “removed from some of their key governance responsibilities.”

The interesting question is not ‘Why are many board members not engaged,’ but rather, ‘What are the dynamics of the boards where they are engaged?’

In boards that are deeply engaged we tend to find the following structures.

  1. Mission connection is based on personal experience. Board members are expected to regularly visit programs and to report at board meetings what they learned.
  1. There are explicit expectations for board engagement. These expectations are taken as seriously as job expectations for staff. Structures that motivate performance include: annual performance reviews (some organizations even provide each board member with a “report card”); development of personalized objectives; public recognition for high performance; performance based re-nomination recommendations; and exit interviews with departing board members.
  1. The executive director puts meat on the table. Does the executive director really want serious board engagement in organizational issues? Or would she or he see it as micromanaging? There is no end to the important strategic and tactical solutions that board members could develop and contribute to – if they are asked.

Board members’ time is not the issue. When board members are asked for their help they tend to be honored that their expertise is valued. It is counterintuitive but nonetheless true that the more that is asked of us, the happier we are.

Michael Davidson, Board Coach, is a consultant specializing in nonprofit board development, management support, strategic planning, leadership transition, and executive coaching for nonprofit managers.


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