Three Quick and Easy Steps to Encourage Board Members to Speak Up

Each year you work hard to bring on new board members who will help you do your important work. They’re smart, eager, connected and ready to roll. The excitement is palpable, and they jump in with both feet.

And then something happens. At some point, most board members’ productivity slows down a bit. Like a receding tide, you see them moving away and out of reach. But you still need them. The community is counting on all of you. How can you keep them where the action is, focused on the right things, leveraging their unique gifts?

Several years ago, even as a seasoned executive director, I stopped paying attention to a veteran board member because I just assumed he was still feeling valued and doing meaningful volunteer work. After all, he had been with us for over six years. Then one day I turned around, and he handed me his resignation. I had no idea he had lost interest and was moving on. He hadn’t spoken up, and I wondered why not.

Why Does this Matter?

When you have a shared leadership structure, teamwork is vital to success. And when the team is humming along together:

  • Your meetings run smoother;
  • Your action items actually get completed;
  • You raise more money;
  • You have more ambassadors telling the story of your good work in the community;
  • You serve more people because you’re running more efficiently.

Require Board Members to Speak Up

Yes, you’ve given them an orientation and helped coach them on the ins and outs and culture of the organization when they first joined. But you also might not know what they don’t know that early on. We all realize that open communication generally creates a more positive and productive environment, so set up simple ways of knowing if your board members are doing okay and are still satisfied with their involvement.

Three Quick and Easy Steps to Encourage Board Members to

Speak Up:

  1. Enroll a board member or two to serve as champions among their peer circles. Don’t over complicate it. Just ask them to check in with board members who seem to be drifting away. Or maybe seem frustrated about something. Part of your role is leadership development. Not only do you not have to do all the work, but this is a way to involve others who have the influence to help strengthen the team.
  2. Encourage board members to reflect on what matters to them most in regard to their service. Then ask them to speak up and share it so you can support them in achieving it. Maybe they want to be more connected to the mission somehow or they’re motivated by the relationships they’ve made on the board. Once you know, you can be more effective in supporting them.
  3. Have a conversation with individual board members without an agenda. When was the last time that happened? Just ask about their dog, find out when their next vacation is, how that challenge at work is going, etc. This is simple relationship building and sometimes we’re just too darn “busy” to focus on our most precious assets – our people. Time to slow down and chat.

All of us can get distracted or lose motivation from time to time. It’s tough to maintain a high level of participation over long stretches. Ask your board members to tell you what they need – in the beginning, middle and end of their term. And remind them they have a responsibility to share their ideas, questions and concerns. Most of us aren’t mind readers so if you need something, dear board members, please speak up!

Cindi Phallen is a nonprofit strategist and the founder and president of Create Possibility.

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