Engage Your Board to Further Your Mission

By Renae Oswald Anderson-Partner Fall is often the season of getting back into more of a routine with school starting, summer vacations wrapping up, and nonprofit organizations gearing up for fall programming. Executives, development officers, and board members are scheduling donor meetings and planning year- end appeals.

This also could be the time when you take stock of the energy and commitment of your board of directors. An engaged board is essential to a high-impact organization. Leaders of all ages and backgrounds who care deeply about a cause want to help the nonprofits they love succeed. They want to see positive impact in the community.

So what constitutes an engaged board? How do both staff and volunteer leadership encourage critical thinking about the most pressing issues and opportunities facing the organization? What does the community need from us now and in the future? How are we as an organization reaching our goals and aspirations?

At SCC, we believe board engagement starts with building healthy relationships that foster listening to each other and the community, not simply hearing staff reports at board meetings. Boards become actively engaged when there is robust dialogue, assumptions are challenged in a respectful manner, and when everyone is focused on achieving the mission. Jay W. Lorsch, professor at the Harvard Business School, sums it up: “Boardroom effectiveness has less to do with structure than with the quality of the directors themselves and how they interact.”

So how do you build a team of engaged board members? Try to incorporate these strategies taken from Boards on Fire! by Susan Howlett:

  • Design meetings people look forward to attending. Build relationships and community by serving food as a gesture of hospitability (given busy volunteers’ schedules). People can’t pay attention when they are distracted by their growling stomachs.

  • Incorporate a “consent agenda” so the entire board meeting is not taken up on routine business and approvals. This frees up time for a generative conversation and discussion about matters of real importance as you look forward.

  • Provide an opportunity for education about missional impact at every meeting.

  • Have a board member share their experience and learning about a particular program.

  • Make the budget decipherable—what patterns signal fiscal health and what things trigger red flags?

When board members are engaged in leadership and strategic decision making, they will feel invested in furthering the mission and vison of the organization.

SCC has several workshops and trainings that contribute to building an engaged board. Check them out on our website at www.strategic-cc.com