Congratulations on Your Engagement!

They tell me it’s wedding season – spring is transitioning into summer and engagement parties and weddings are common for this time of year.  Congratulations are surely in order.

Now imagine being engaged to a person that’s not engaged to you.  You’re committed, involved and attentive; but they seem distant, distracted and pre-occupied. You attempt to do all you can to engage the person that’s supposed to be engaged to you.  Sounds far fetched?  Well, I’m not sure how often this happens in personal relationships, but it’s a common occurrence in the world of Board Governance.

Countless nonprofit executive directors and board chairs wrestle with the question, “How can I get my Board member(s) to be more engaged?”

There are a variety of reasons for disengaged board members.  One of the primary reasons I’ve observed is that we build this relationship off of a variety of assumptions.  Here are some common assumptions:

  1. The Board member knows why we want them on the Board and they know what we expect from them.
  2. The Board member knows how to be a high performing Board member.
  3. If they are unsure or unaware of an expectation, they would ask someone.
  4. They know they’re not fulfilling their responsibility.
  5. They know what being “engaged” means.

Let’s take a moment and look at number 5 – I believe if we get this one right, it’ll have a positive impact on numbers 1-4.  We assume that Board members know what “being engaged” means, but the truth is this deserves to be clearly defined and communicated.  Face it – being engaged is a big deal and I think it’s only fair that all parties involved have a clear understanding.

Here are some common understandings of what it means to be an engaged board member:

  1. Attend meetings.
  2. Volunteer outside of the meetings.
  3. Financially support the organization.
  4. Serve as an advocate/voice in the community.
  5. Aware of local/national trends that impact the mission of the organization.
  6. Fully present during meetings.
  7. It’s not a matte of time spent, it’s a matter of energy spent on the organization.
  8. Inquisitive and concerned about the state of the organization.

What’s the lesson? If you want engaged board members or want to be an engaged board member spend some time defining what being engaged means and looks like.

For those nonprofit leaders that have figured this out, congratulations on your engagement!