At one time or another, almost all organizations struggle with a disengaged board where members no longer care about raising money, giving of their own money, and overall “phone it in” when it comes to their responsibilities. We have all been there.
It is not an easy process to re-engage a board, but with time and a lot of patience it is possible! Executive Directors should work with senior staff and the Board Chair to carry out a strategic process to assess the current situation and work on moving forward in a positive direction. I recommend a three part plan. First, use assessment tools that help the board evaluate where they currently are in meeting their responsibilities. Second, the board needs to institute term limits and/or follow through on the terms they already have in place. Lastly, building the board becomes a key priority through not just recruiting new members but building the current members as well.
I once worked with a board spread over a three county area with some members who had served for 15 years. By the time I was hired, their fundraising and oversight responsibility had dwindled to the point where it was almost non-existent. I worked with the Board Chair over the course of a year to implement the steps laid out above including term limits. All current board members were given the opportunity to renew their board service after reviewing the clearly laid out expectations of board members. Some of the long-serving board members were thankful to have an exit plan from their board service and this allowed for new members to join the board. The new members received a full board orientation detailing their role and responsibilities before accepting the position. These changes created an entire cultural shift and the board members who remained became re-energized and motivated to complete their responsibilities, including fundraising.
Sometimes, we need to remind our board members of the role they play in the organization. Executive Directors need to work with the Board Chair to evaluate the board’s performance and make the necessary changes to help keep the board inspired to fulfill their role in the organization. And remember we have all been there when it goes off the rails and it can be put back on the right track.