Board Engagement Tips For The Board Involved

Originally published on June 27, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press

Montrose is a community with a gigantic heart. People are passionate and they take those passions and deliver on them. Further evidence of this is the sheer number of nonprofits in our community and all the various causes they are serving. Behind every one of those organizations is a board of directors and hardworking team living out the purpose of that passion.

Our boards are groups of talented individuals who have assimilated around our cause. They are people who have raised their hand and pledged their commitment to the purpose of our organization. What more could we ask?

It can be assumed very few of us are taking advantage of our boards to their full capacity. Knowing exactly how and when to assert ourselves can be difficult. I must admit I am nowhere near a master of this concept, but I have had the opportunity to learn through my exposure to the exemplary operations of our city council and other model organizations in our community.

Depending on the organization and its culture, board engagement can be a challenge. It is easy to point the finger the other way, but I would wager if the walls of the board room could talk, they might say the following:

1. Tell the board exactly what is expected of them. What does success look like at the board level? Is the board utilized as an asset or an obligation to the organization? Think about job descriptions, onboarding, training and community building. Then work in the specific skill sets or passions each board member is willing to contribute. If this sounds a lot like hiring a new employee, don’t assume that’s just a happy coincidence. A board equipped with clear expectations and vision is a board ready to knock it out of the park.

2. Involve the board in visionary conversations. Brainstorming direction and next steps is fun. Boards are a built-in group of peers to bounce ideas off. If that culture is not currently existent in an organization, there’s no time like the present.

Every board member should be invited to weigh in on issues. Let the passion come out. Create a safe space for visionary conversations and remove the risk of those conversations leaving the room. When the time is right, be the guide in implementing those ideas or using them as a starting point for something even better.

3. Create a strategic plan (and use it). Strategic planning is a whole different beast, but here is the quick version: Together with the board, clearly set one to three deliverables. Those deliverables should be at the top of every board packet and reported on at every board meeting. Make sure everyone in the organization from the front line to the board chair/president know the deliverables and a clear path to success. This not only produces tangible results, but it gives the board an objective way of gauging success. It also gives the board bragging credentials when they are out and about talking about how awesome you are!

4. Make meetings interesting. Death by PowerPoint is a thing. Death by meeting is also a thing. Plan board meetings, retreats and gatherings with an element of entertainment. Provide interesting and engaging (relevant) content and watch meeting attendance soar. Consider a five minute “fun fact” training on your organization, its history or leadership. Plan presentations with the audience in mind first and the content in mind second.

For more on this, I highly recommend the quick read “Death by Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni.

5. Give credit where credit is due. The answer is yes: You should recognize, acknowledge, introduce, thank or show gratitude for your board. Not just yes, but all the time. When people volunteer their limited and precious time as well as take personal ownership and responsibility for an organization, that organization should go out of its way to elevate those individuals. These efforts are but a small token to the board for their commitment to the organization as well as an outward symbol of team unity.

6. No surprise is ever a good surprise. The board should be second to know after you. The end.

These guidelines can be used in both public and private sectors. They can also be used when managing a team or committee. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you see an increase in trust, transparency and accountability. If we each take a small step toward those deliverables, then we may see the collective heart of Montrose beat with more passion and determination than ever before.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose. Contact her at chelsea@montrosechamber.com.