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Growing board engagement: Part II – Meetings

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[In Part I of this three-part series, we discussed the impact that making a few changes to your bylaws could have on increasing board engagement. Part III covers decision-making.]

Terrie Temkin

Terrie Temkin

Terrie Temkin

In this article, we’ll look at simple but powerful changes to meetings that can dramatically enhance it.

Part II: Meetings

* Respect people’s time:

It should be self-evident, but people resent having others waste their time.

Instead of limiting the length of meetings – promising people they’ll be out in an hour – start on time regardless of who is in the room, avoid recapping information for late-comers and eliminate reports from the agenda. People can read those ahead of time.

Keep the conversation on track, validate people’s thinking and retain good ideas by “parking” extraneous topics on a sheet of paper to be held for discussion at a later date.

Most important, solicit the intellectual capital around the table and encourage dialogue on substantive issues, whereby people can see their time translating to community impact.

* Avoid narrow focus on compliance issues:

Compliance issues are a key aspect of governance and many boards focus on them because the scope of work is generally clear and the results are relatively easy to measure.

But, such a focus does little to engage people. People join boards to make a difference. They want a say in developing their community’s future.

Numbers and government regulations may be necessary, but they aren’t your raison d’être. Create dashboards and checklist systems that allow you to meet your compliance obligations relatively quickly.

Then, allot the majority of time to strategic and generative issues that will capture the imagination and involvement of your board.

* Create a culture of inquiry:

The best decisions are made when all sides of an equation are explored. Therefore, encourage questions and push back when topics come to the floor for consideration.

Try appointing an “organizational skeptic” at each board meeting, whose job it is to ask the hard questions. You can give that person a “cheat sheet” with sample questions to get him or her started.

As people realize that the culture rewards challenge, the engagement level will go up. An important side benefit: the quality of governance will improve as well.

* Have high expectations:

We all know the psychology of self-fulfilling prophecy. People live up – or down – to our expectations.

If you expect that they are too busy to come to meetings, prepare ahead or participate fully, they won’t disappoint.

Unfortunately, the more we allow board members to shirk their duties, the less engaged they’ll become. Miss a meeting, it’s easier to miss the next one, too. After all, you’re already out of the loop.

We must communicate both verbally and nonverbally that there is a high standard for board service and consequences for not meeting those standards.

Adopt these four approaches at meetings and watch your engagement levels rise.

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 TerrieTemkin@CoreStrategies4Nonprofits.com.

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