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Some Boards are Just Bored

Everyone knows of an organization with a few board members who are passionately dedicated, while others are just looking to strengthen a resume. Those extremes are the easiest to spot, but what about the ones in the middle? What type of board member are you and what does your organization need to be certain it does not have a “bored board?”

The following statements provide insight into your board and your personal service. Answer honestly, with thoughts of your motivations.

My attendance at board meetings could be best described as:

A. Consistent, never missing a meeting.

B. Seldom miss a meeting, at most one per year.

C. Miss a couple of meetings annually.

D. Make meetings when I can.

If you answered A or B, congratulations! You are most likely engaged in the organization and have a good feel for the top issues facing the group. If you answered C or D, it might be time to have a talk with your executive or an honest chat with yourself. Yes, it is overly simplified, and attendance is just the tip of the iceberg, but the strongest boards provide even stronger outcomes.

When executives of nonprofits share board attendance problems, I encourage them to look inward first. Poor board attendance is not always indicative of the 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.

A professional identification, interview and orientation process can head off many of these board problems. However, organizations still have board members come to the organization simply because “they knew someone”. While the orientation process may shed some light on the new candidate, it is imperative organizations get to know the motivations of their board members in a way many never considered.

I encourage executives 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:

P – Passion for the cause. It is imperative that board members have a passion for the cause. They need to 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 those. Determining this passion is quite easy. You can hear it in their voice, see it in their commitment, and find it hiding in their questions. Now, you need to develop their passion for your cause further.

U – Understanding. Some board members just get it, but you cannot delay in dealing with those who do not. It is important that board members devote the time necessary to understand the inner workings of the organization while being certain to not micro-manage. The board member who understands the processes has a better opportunity of making informed, non-emotional and apolitical decisions. The organization needs to ensure that these 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.

L – Leadership. Having individuals who are “natural born leaders” is not a requirement, but for policy governance, board members 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.

S – 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.

E – 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. Miss two meetings in a row, and you could miss major action. For those who seem hesitant to be engaged, you need to be certain you are utilizing their time and talents wisely. The inability to do so may be reflected in the poor attendance.

The structure of the board is key but politically, motivation and attendance is something that needs to be addressed in conjunction with the board chair and never undertaken solely by the staff. Often times, 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 is the pulse of your organization?

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