Dani Robbins

Engaging the Board

In Non Profit Boards on November 28, 2012 at 8:11 am

One of the most obvious signs that a Board is disengaged is quorum issues. If you have consistent issues with having enough Board members in the room to make decisions, I recommend you take a look at how your board was built and how it is being developed.

Is your Board built intentionally?

Intentionally looks like this:  There is a Board Development (also called nominating or governance) Committee that assesses the strength of your current Board, looks at the gaps, and puts together a list of prospects that are later vetted and voted upon, to fill those gaps.  The committee also plans for officer succession, Board education and evaluation.

Unintentionally looks like this:  A Board member invites someone to join the Board without a discussion with the Board Development Committee as to what the Board needs, or what the expectations for service are.  The person is not vetted, or told of the commitment required. There is no formal process that is followed, no education and no evaluation. Yet, the person is voted upon and joins your Board.

Once the Board is in place, intentionally or not, the next question is:  Is your Board engaged and are members being developed?

Most community leaders join Boards for the right reasons.  Sometimes not.   If someone is seeking to join your board for the wrong reasons, that will become obvious during the vetting process.  This requires you to have a vetting process, but vetting alone is not enough.  After a member is added to your Board, they must be engaged.  What we as nonprofit leaders do to engage and continue to engage members after they have joined the board is what makes the difference.

Engagement looks like this:  The vast majority of Board members are in the room for most meetings, you have 100% Board giving, each member acts as an ambassador in the community and your events and public meetings are well attend by members who bring friends and colleagues. The Board understands the organizations’ mission, programs and impact; participates in robust discussions; and actively seeks ways to support the Executive Director and the organization.

Disengagement, on the other hand, looks like this: People stop coming to meetings – leading to quorum issues. They stop coming to events. They stop volunteering for things. They stop giving or supporting the organization.

Once your Board becomes disengaged, quorum issues, which maybe the most obvious, are only the tip of the iceberg.  The problems underneath the surface include a lack of understanding of some or all of the following: their role, the Execs role, the finances, the mission or strategic vision for the organization and how programs support that vision.

By now you may be wondering about the level of engagement on the Board you serve.

Some questions for your consideration:  Are Board and committee meetings productive, engaging and worth the time to attend?  Does the Executive Director meet individually, at least annually, with Board members?  Is there a plan that everyone is aware of and working toward?  Are there strategic and generative discussions happening in the boardroom?  Is there meaningful work for individual board members to do?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no” or “I don’t know” I encourage you to put a plan in place to move your answers to yes. Talk to your Board members individually and ask about engagement. Ask about how they would like to be engaged, why they joined the Board and how you can make their experience more meaningful.

For the organizations with which I work I encourage a written plan detailing an intentional process to build and develop the board; annual retreats to set or recommit to strategic goals; board training on everything from how to read the financials, to raise money, to the role and responsibilities of the Board; and an annual evaluation process that assesses individual members as well as the entire board against the expectations and the organization’s aspirations.

Board engagement is critical to building an organization that moves the needle and impacts the community.  What’s been your experience? As always, I welcome your experience and insight.

  1. […] their votes counted. Quorum issues are the best indicators of disengaged board. As mentioned in Engaging the Board “If you have consistent issues with having enough Board members in the room to make decisions, I […]


    • I’ve read and enjoyed a number of articles on this blog, but am consistently frustrated that I can’t read the comment! Each comment starts and ends with […]I, meaning that the beginning and end of every comment is missing. Clicking on the comment, and on “Reply,” and on the Photo/name of the commenter don’t help. I don’t know whether it’s just a problem with my laptop, but it’s really frustrating. Help welcome!


      • Hi Kim,

        Thank you for your comment and for reading! I appreciate your kind words. Any comment that starts with a … isn’t a comment at all but a sentence from another post that has linked to the one you’re reading. I don’t know why wordpress does that. I agree that it’s frustrating. I apologize and appreciate you taking the time!

        Thank you,


  2. […] do not have a quorum. Quorum issues are the best indicators of disengaged board. As mentioned in Engaging the Board “If you have consistent issues with having enough Board members in the room to make decisions, I […]


  3. […] few years ago I wrote a piece on engaging the board. The information contains within is still true, and today I want to take a deeper […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: