Engaging Boards - virtually or in-person!

Posted By: Colleen Bozard For Good Connections, Learning Together,

As a longstanding Business Partner and nonprofit consultant, over the past year, I was asked by many Together SC leaders,  “how do we keep board members engaged while working remotely?”  It was great to see how hard folks worked to make Zoom meetings engaging and real.

But now, how do we re-engage board members, as we consider going back to in-person meetings?

The first step is to consider what meeting format will be most effective for your board to get its work done moving forward.

  • Should you continue virtual meetings if they are working and offer board members benefits?
  • Is there a hybrid model that might be possible?
  • When will be the right time to go back to in-person meetings?

Of course, if the choice is to remain remote, make sure virtual meetings allow the board to participate and carry out its governance responsibilities. 

Then, regardless of which option you choose, strong board engagement requires attention to relationships between the chief executive, the chair and individual board members.

Consider the chair and chief executive partnership. A strong partnership provides steady leadership that gives staff, board members, clients and donors needed stability. Conversely, if the chair - CEO relationship is tenuous, it will be hard to fully engage the board. 

As the Chief Governance Officer, (CGO), the chair is responsible for: 1) keeping the board focused on providing strategic direction; 2) ensuring the board fulfills its governance and fiduciary responsibilities; 3) asking board members to give and provide needed support that; 4) presiding over and managing board meetings, and 5) helping navigate the move to whatever model of meeting is chosen.

The board chair and chief executive must work in partnership to engage board members and keep them engaged, whether virtual or in person.

There are three fundamental ways to keep individual board members engaged. While these strategies don’t change when working remotely or in-person, how you implement them will vary.

Strengthen Communications

  • Board members need information that is clear and concise to be engaged and productive. You’ll want to provide regular updates and pertinent information between board meetings.
  • Keep your board informed and maintain a “no surprises” culture.
  • Regularly ask for input and be sure to educate them on critical issues.
  • If you aren’t communicating on a regular basis, your board members won’t feel connected and will definitely disengage.

Build Personal Relationships

  • We know that relationships between the CEO and board members and between board members themselves help create the trust that allows for challenging in-depth conversations.
  • Maintaining these relationships is challenging if working remotely.
  • Boards will want to find ways to socialize and connect if they continue remote work. This will require some creativity.
  • If moving back to in-person meetings, consider how you might re-establish or strengthen relationships between board members.

Offer Meaningful Engagement 

  • Engage all board members to use their expertise, knowledge and skills to support your organization. Every board member needs a job to do.
  • Be sure they understand that their contributions are meaningful and are helping to achieve the organization’s mission.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. What jobs are needed and how are they different?
  • What standing committees are essential to continue? Are there ad hoc structures needed to get the work done?
  • If you reach out to individual board members with very specific needs, they will be more likely to respond than if you send out a “I need help in general” message.

Whether your organization continues to work remotely, move back to meeting in-person, or decides on a hybrid model, remember that the board needs to continue to consider what the organization needs.

In partnership with your chair, develop a plan to strengthen board engagement.

Talk about what your board members can be doing to help with fundraising, with finance planning, with communication, risk assessment, and strategic decisions about the future.

If the board has conversations about the issues that affect the organization and works as a team to develop effective strategies for moving forward, the board will be engaged no matter what model of meeting you choose in the future.

Looking forward to seeing you in-person sometime soon.

Colleen Bozard
President / Owner, ccbozard Consulting