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How to Increase Board Member Engagement

Recruiting is a never-ending reality for any charter board. With BoardOnTrack’s Recruiting Roadmap, that task is broken down into small, manageable chunks to recruit the right people, for the right roles, at the right time.

Once you have the right people though, how do you keep these members engaged and active on the board?

Engagement starts with the board orientation.

Once the Governance Committee has successfully recruited new board members, it is important to put an equal amount of time into orienting them and keeping them continually engaged.

The first step to board engagement is the board orientation process.

A new trustee will not automatically grasp the complexity of your organization. You will have to guide them through the history, current challenges, and the future direction of the organization.

Typically, the Governance Committee organizes the board orientation with assistance from the board chair and CEO. You may find it useful to add several trustees at one time so that you can orient them together, and so that you avoid constantly catching new trustees up to speed.

Once your orientation is complete, how do you keep your trustees attentive and involved?

Top 6 Ways to Engage and Retain Trustees

Retaining trustees might be one of the most common questions we hear. This is a very real pain point for many boards. The good news is, there are proven things you can do to retain your trustees.

1.Tighten up your board meetings.

To keep strong trustees on your board, the single most important thing is to tighten up your board meetings. Board meetings that continually engage strong board members typically last no longer than two hours, keep to the established agenda, and focus on strategic, future-facing issues — not minutiae.

2. Ensure each trustee has a clear path to contributing.

Make sure that each trustee is engaged in meaningful work on behalf of the organization. Each board member should actively serve on a committee or contribute to another tangible project.

3. Connect each trustee with the life of your school.

Provide opportunities for board members to participate in school activities. Coming in contact with the mission is key to staying engaged and passionate.

4. Make evaluations a priority.

Conduct trustee evaluations to gauge board member satisfaction. Keeping them involved and holding them accountable through a systematic evaluation is a key driver in trustee retention.

5. Get out of the board room, together.

Conduct board retreats and outings so individuals develop rapport and feel comfortable challenging one another. This is key to a high-functioning governance team. A little fun can go a long way.

6. Develop an annual program.

Task your Governance Committee with developing a simple annual board-building program. Here are some of our favorite activities and board building exercises:

Host a low-pressure board member book club.

We haven’t met a board yet that didn’t think they needed to do more fundraising. Buy each board member one or both of these books. They’re fun, inspirational, and brief. Have a 20-minute, low-pressure book club discussion at a board meeting.

Some of our favorites are Big Gifts for Small Groups: A Board Member’s 1-Hour Guide to Securing Gifts of $500 to $5,000, by Andy Robinson and Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift, by Jerold Panas.

Read a provocative article.

Some great articles can be found at the excellent website Help 4 NonProfits. Look in their free nonprofit library for the following terrific articles, and many more!

  • Riding the Horse the Way It Is Going
  • Fundraising for Small Nonprofits
  • Founders Syndrome

Envision the future together.

Ask board members to think about what your organization will be like in twenty years. Pretend that you are a visitor to the future. You go to see your charter school(s). Write down what it looks like, what is happening there, who is there, etc. Then share your thoughts. Discuss how to create a bridge from where you are now to where you want to be. What is the role of the board in getting there?

Evaluate your board meetings.        

Evaluate your board meetings regularly. Rotate through the board with each board member taking a turn at evaluating the board meeting by sharing observations and feedback at the end of each meeting.

Here are a few key questions you might ask:

  • What did we do tonight to further our mission?
  • How much of our time was spent reporting on the past vs. planning our future?
  • Did we stick to the agenda?
  • Was there equal participation by board members?
  • Was this meeting effective? Why or why not?
  • What could be done to improve the board meeting?

Trustee retention is possible.

Recruiting the right people is only the first step in achieving your goals. With these proven steps, you can keep those people engaged and focused on moving the organization forward.

Download our eBook to get even more actionable advice, including our seven short-term strategies to boost board member engagement.