Growing board engagement: Part I – Bylaws

[This is the first in a three-part series on engaging board members. See Part II and Part III.]

Terrie Temkin
Terrie Temkin

Terrie Temkin

If the calls to my office are indicative, lack of engagement appears to be the greatest bane to the boards of nonprofit organizations today.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Engendering engagement is relatively easy, if your organization is committed to the process.

Obviously, having “the right people on the bus,” as Jim Collins suggests, is the first step. However, it is only one step.

Since so much has been written about recruitment, this three-part series will not speak to that subject. Instead, it will focus on the impact of your bylaws, the format and content of your meetings and how you make decisions.

Each of the ideas you will find here are proven practices. Adopting even a few of them will result in a more engaged and committed board.


Your bylaws dictate how your organization, and specifically your board, must operate.

In my practice, most of the organizational bylaws I read are boilerplate, based on convention rather than logic or good practice.

A few changes to your bylaws could make a big difference.


Smaller boards work best if you are looking to enhance engagement.

Research in group dynamics tells us that discussing strategy and making decisions is best handled in small groups. Conversations tend to involve everyone. People get to know one another, rely on and trust one another. They become more accountable to one another. The result is more engagement.

While the actual size of your board must be determined by your organization’s needs, I have found the majority of organizations operate well with nine to 15 directors.

The executive committee:

Do you have an executive committee? Consider eliminating it. It’s not necessary.

Executive committees evolved in an age when it was often difficult to reach the full board if an emergency arose. However, today, we have tools that allow for instantaneous communication around the world.

And, we need to recognize that every decision made by the executive committee – which in too many cases acts as the defacto board – discourages engagement of the full board because nobody wants to be perceived as a rubber stamp or, worse, out of the loop entirely.

The quorum:

Consider changing the quorum you require for decision-making at board meetings. Most organization bylaws specify that 51 percent of members comprise a quorum.

There is nothing “legal” or magical about this number. It is merely convention.

To increase engagement, increase the percentage. With a 51 percent quorum, people can rationalize missing meetings with the thought that enough others will be in attendance for the organization to do its business.

When people realize that even one or two missing people puts decision-making in jeopardy, they are more likely to show up. The benefit to showing up more often: growing engagement.

These three simple changes to your bylaws can make a significant difference in the involvement of your board.

In Part II, we’ll discuss three changes to your meetings that will also increase engagement.

For a more detailed discussion of this topic, purchase the webinar recording presented by this author.

Terrie Temkin is a governance and planning expert and the founding principal of CoreStrategies for Nonprofits, Inc., which interweaves governance, board development, fund development, PR/marketing and public policy to strengthen organizational capacity. Contact her at 888-458-4351 Ext. 3 or

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