When board members aren’t fully engaged in their duties, it can impact the performance of the entire association. A board member that’s not fully engaged might be more prone to miss meetings, come unprepared, or not actively participate. Maybe the disengaged board member is unhappy with their role. Maybe they feel they aren’t being heard. Perhaps they have withdrawn because they don’t feel they are making a difference. If a board member is drifting away, the rest of the board has an obligation to help them for the good of the association. Here are some strategies for keeping board members engaged or getting them re-engaged.
Get Them Involved
Some board members — especially newer ones — may have great ideas but lack the confidence to share them. To overcome this, assign the board member to lead a specific task or assignment, and make them responsible for reporting back to the full board. This increased involvement could be a springboard for engagement in other issues too.
Make Sure They Know Their Role
A disengaged board member may be uncertain of their role. If this is the case, appoint a “board buddy” who serves as a dedicated resource to the disengaged board member, answers their questions, and provides guidance. Also, it’s vital for the board chair to reiterate the expectations of board members, which also should be covered during the board-orientation process for new members.
Ensure Their Voice is Adequately Heard
Sometimes, a board member may not be participating because they feel ignored. This type of scenario may require the board chair or vice chair to examine if the problem is with the board itself. Some boards may consolidate power within the executive committee or have an opinionated member who dominates discussions. This can be remedied by actively seeking out the opinions of others. The board chair should be sure to include all members, perhaps by asking for opinions from others first.
Keep Board Meetings Productive
Unnecessarily long or unproductive meetings can breed disengagement. If a board meeting is bloated with agenda items that aren’t strategic — like long discussions on matters that don’t lead to action, or summaries of committee reports — revise the agenda to focus on key decisions, policy development, and strategic direction.
Keep the lines of communication open, even between board meetings. Have the board chair, or perhaps a board buddy, check in with any disaffected board members to keep them up to date on board activities. Ask them how they are enjoying their board experience and what would help them become more engaged. There may be an underlying issue that is preventing full participation. Volunteers are busy people, many of whom work full-time jobs and have other commitments. It may simply be a time issue. Whatever the reason, frequent communication can help surface and solve the problems.
Use Time Outside the Board Room Effectively
Taking the time to socialize and network as a board can help with engagement, if handled correctly. Don’t use these informal settings to make board decisions but do try to reinforce key messages about the value of board members’ participation and share genuine appreciation for their service. These types of gatherings can also help break through any cliques that form on the board.