I would venture to guess you have been involved with organizations who have a few board members who are passionately dedicated, while others are just along for the ride. These may be the most obvious extremes but there are likely some in the middle who are willing to serve but need some guidance and motivation. Where do you fall on that continuum as a board member?

I’ve learned over the years that the strongest boards provide even stronger outcomes.  Regular evaluation of the board’s performance is not only a good idea, but also imperative to getting your board to the next level.  It is just as important for us to conduct a personal assessment of our commitment.

The following statements provide insight into your board and your personal service. Answer honestly, with thoughts of your motivations.  My service as a board member could be best described as:

A.  Passionate, never miss a meeting, volunteer to assist with projects and support the organization financially.

B.  Supportive, seldom miss a meeting and engage in discussions, provide help when possible and make an annual gift.

C.  Connected, miss a meeting or two annually, seldom engage in discussion, support the mission, but need some motivation.

D.  Indifferent, make meetings when I can, rarely add to the discussions and feel little passion for our efforts.

If you answered A or B, congratulations!  You are most likely engaged in the organization and have a good feel for the issues facing the group. Answer C? It might be time to have a talk, with your board chair or executive to find a challenge and reengage.  If the answer is D, it’s time to have an honest chat with yourself about why you retain the position?  Is it for yourself or the organization?  The latter may have some chance for resolution but the former really has no place at the table.  Yes, it’s overly simplified, and the descriptions represent the tip of the iceberg, but it does point to some issues. 

When I hear about board attendance problems, I encourage the board to look inward. Poor board attendance is not always indicative of a lack of interest by the board member. Rather, it can be a primary indicator of organizational problems ranging from recruitment shortcomings to poorly structured meetings, or in some instances, mission drift. These are serious issues that need to be reviewed and if possible, remediated.

Organizations with board members elected simply because “they knew someone” are looking for trouble. While the orientation process may shed light on the new candidate, it is imperative organization’s get to the know the motivations of their board members in a way many never considered.

I encourage leaders to take the PULSE of the board to help provide motivation and ensure the relationship is a win-win situation. The PULSE acronym represents the following:

Passion

Passion…for the cause. It’s imperative Board members have a passion for the cause. They must want to advance the mission of the organization and feel a personal connection to the group. They should have a deep appreciation for the services delivered and the recipients of them. Determining this passion is quite easy. You can hear it in their voice, see it in their commitment, find it hiding in their questions. Now, you need to further develop their passion for your cause by keeping them engaged.

Understanding

Some board members just get it, but you can’t delay in dealing with those who don’t. It is important that board members devote the time necessary to understand the inner workings of the organization while avoiding micromanagement. The board who understands the processes has a better opportunity of making informed, non-emotional, and apolitical decisions. The organization needs to ensure learning opportunities are readily available and offered to new board members and the orientation should extend not only into the first year of service, but beyond.

Leadership

Having individuals who are “natural born leaders” is not a requirement, but for policy governance boards they do need to have leadership tendencies. After all, these are the people responsible for identifying the strategic direction of your organization. You want them to be capable and comfortable in making those decisions and energized by the responsibility.

Seekers

The ability to question, assess, and find new territory is key to keeping a Board engaged and active. Groups can never be satisfied where they are, because those who are, will quickly find themselves falling behind. Board members need to be seeking new ways, new supporters, and new partners.  Likewise, the executive needs to seek ways for the board to meet these goals.

Engaged

Today’s Board member absolutely must be engaged with the board and the organization. With ever-changing technology, competition, communities, and environments the only way to stay ahead of the curve is to be engaged. Make sure they’re engaged at the highest level.  Miss two meetings in a row and they could miss major action. For those who seem hesitant, you need to be certain their time and talents are utilized wisely. The inability to do so may be reflected in their poor attendance.

Motivation and attendance is something that needs to be addressed in conjunction with the Board Chair, and never undertaken solely by the staff for political reasons. Ideally, the process is addressed within the group’s bylaws. It is always the responsibility of the staff to help enforce, support, and recognize opportunities for board growth, engagement, and development. So, how’s the pulse of your board service?

David J. Fry, CDT, MPS is President/CEO of Effective Advancement Strategies in Greensburg and consults with businesses and nonprofits throughout Indiana.  He may be contacted at strategies@etczone.com

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