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Effective Board Engagement By Tom Okarma

Twelve ways to achieve effective board engagement.

Know how to get a few good board directors? Start with a lot of good directors!

A couple of nonprofit boards I am somewhat familiar with are in the process of losing some good directors by their own personal choice, not due to term limits. This is a shame because both boards do terrific work and these directors have played important roles on those boards. My take-it didn’t have to end this way and the clients served by those organizations may suffer because of it.

I learned these directors are leaving for similar reasons and it got me thinking about how ED’s and board chairs can collaborate to keep high capacity directors from leaving prematurely. I thought I’d share those with you. Unless good directors are used effectively, you will lose them. Other nonprofits are probably recruiting them right now and are ready, willing, and to put them to work.

Here’s what I see effective nonprofits doing to keep their best directors fully engaged through their full terms-and beyond:

  1. Hold effective meetings.
  2. Put them all on empowered board committees, insist on high attendance levels, and let them really tackle pending issues-no one coasts and no one is buried.
  3. Ge them off to a good start with a comprehensive New Director Orientation Program and clarify what is expected of all your directors.
  4. Develop a periodic, informal communication loop between board meetings so directors feel a part of the organization and are kept briefed on significant issues. Coffee sessions, e-mail, quick phone calls should do the trick.
  5. Commit to a “no surprises” communication and leadership style. It is hard to call directors in on a crash landing when you didn’t call them in for the take-off…
  6. Collaborate and use your directors; give them real work to do.
  7. Don’t waste their time or use them like a check book.
  8. Face problems and key issues head on. Directors are used to it in their work life and avoiding problems will raise red flags to them.
  9. Periodically remind them how much you and staff appreciate their involvement.
  10. Focus on accomplishments, not just activity. Directors are there to move the ball forward so let them understand how that is happening.
  11. Permitting creative tension-as long as it is not personality or hidden-agenda driven.
  12. Collaborate with your directors.

How are you keeping your board engaged?


 Tom Okarma, as founder of Vantage Point, he helps nonprofit boards and Executive Directors perform at a higher level. Tom also serves on the Christian Leadership Alliance Advisory Council offering insights and direction into Alliance programs.

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