7 Recommendations for Including and Engaging Your Board Members
You have just arrived on your carbon-neutral, energy-efficient ship just in time for the meeting you have been invited to attend as a possible new board member. You are one of the few individuals in the universe who possesses the knowledge and experience this board understands it must have to inform and make strategic decisions. But when you enter through the door, the whole room goes silent.
As boards become more diverse to ensure they are hearing the voices of and being guided by the communities their nonprofits serve, ensuring that members are fully and meaningfully welcomed, oriented and engaged should become a bigger priority for nonprofit boards, too.
At minimum, I truly believe that what gets in the way of boards’ success is becoming inclusive and engaging. It is the relational versus transactional nature of nonprofit boards that initially stands in the way. Yes, there is lip service that all who are passionate about mission are welcome and should be part of the revolution.
But in reality, individuals who are outside of members’ networks are rarely valued as much as those who are inside members’ networks. Contributing toward this behavior are foundational theories of change that rely on an individual's personal understanding that there is a problem in society that only founders, those who join after and donors believe must be solved to make their world a better place.
Here are seven common-sense suggestions to improve your board’s engagement and inclusion efforts.
1. Confirm the Prospective Member Feels They Are a Fit
You must meet with every prospective member of the governance committee to ensure the prospect will see the fit for themselves. Yes, the board must judge if it understands its needs (skill, experience, expertise, knowledge) but the prospect must discern whether at least the basics are in place to provide opportunity for engagement and inclusion.
2. Extend a Board Meeting Invite to Prospective Member
Invite the prospect to experience a board meeting to get another glimpse of what their service may involve and also meet the folks who will be their partners in this pursuit of mission.
3. Utilize a Board Operating Manual and Online Portal
There is little reason for boards to not have a board operating manual that provides all of the knowledge needed for a prospective and seated member to function fully. An online board portal is an excellent tool for this purpose. These are cost effective and comprehensive resources as long as there is an accompanying orientation on how to use the manual and portal.
4. Establish Rules of Order
Volunteer leadership’s most effective means for meeting management are rules of order. For many nonprofits, that’s Robert’s Rules of Order, which were developed to make meetings, and, more importantly, decisions manageable and achievable. As it turns out, the masses rarely understand the processes and procedures of Robert's Rules of Order. While they’re definitely effective in keeping order, they’re even more effective at limiting members’ engagement, oftentimes when it matters most.
If Robert's Rules of Order are crazy-making, what’s a common-sense approach to meeting management and decision-making? The answer is, well, common sense. Members can create their own meeting management rules by assigning a few folks to a task force. That task force can discover alternate options and recommend the adoption of what is easily understood to result in inclusive (no one is left behind or out) decision-making.
5. Encourage Mentorship
Mentors — seated board members paired with new members — provide the opportunity for forging relationships and ensure complete organizational knowledge, including behavioral norms and culture. New members may work toward changing traditional norms and cultures but without knowing and understanding what they are, they cannot change norms and culture or maintain continued inclusivity and engagement.
6. Permit Member Knowledge and Experiences to Be Validated
Introduce, orient and re-orient board members about decision-making processes, board roles and responsibilities, theory of change, values and mission, and program and financial activities and results. Share stories and ensure everyone’s story matters. Intentionally allow room for conversation and validation of what members know and experience regarding the topics at hand and perhaps beyond. These are relationships after all.
7. Allow the Board Chair to Oversee Members’ Engagement and Inclusion
Appreciate that the board chair can play the pivotal role in paving the way for members’ engagement and inclusion. The board chair has a unique institutional knowledge and relationship to offer other board members. The board chair should regularly meet with each member to ensure their satisfaction and fitness as members. Lessons for modifying board behavior and norms can be passed onto the governance committee where action may be deemed appropriate.
If a board is serious about engagement and inclusion, it must understand what is required to forge a positive relationship that will make a difference for a prospect. Don’t let your room go silent when newbies or any member arrives for a meeting.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.