Having a Board of Directors is Not Just About Putting Bums in Seats

A non-profit organization’s achievement is built on the hard effort and commitment of the board members it is led by. That’s why when the board’s engagement falters, so does the board’s effectiveness and ultimately the organization’s results. 

Great and engaged boards are cultivated. 

They are known to be forward-thinking and collaborative, they steadily execute their strategic goals and build a healthy organization that has a meaningful impact.

If you’re the board president or an officer, it’s your responsibility in keeping all members active and engaged and in turn maintain the outcome of your organization.

To help you stay on track, we’ve pulled together several tips and tricks for maximizing board engagement. We’ll explore these core board engagement topics:

Subtle Signs That Your Board is Not Engaged

Signs a board member is not engaged can be so subtle that each sign on its own can be easily overlooked. When it comes down to it, you should try to pinpoint and then resolve them as soon as possible.

First,  look at how a member engages during a meeting. This can say a lot about how they are investing themselves in the organization overall. Keep an eye out for board members who will attend meetings, often empty-handed and rather than inserting themselves into the conversation, they will sit back and only observe.

Are they investing as much time as other board members? Do tasks seem to get bottlenecked when this board member is responsible for carrying them out? When a board member loses interest, their work will diminish and so will their attendance and participation at key events and fundraisers.

What is The Potential Danger for a Lack of Engagement?

A disengaged board member can have a negative impact on your once healthy non-profit as their lack of enthusiasm will not only affect their work but will also affect the morale of their fellow board members.

If disengagement isn’t dealt with quickly, your board will soon be unable to make tangible headway towards their vision thus hindering the impact your organization has on the community it serves. As tasks fall off the plate of one board member, they will most likely be picked up by another and in due time those who are engaged will experience the effects of burnout and will leave.

Disengagement on a small scale will drive even the most passionate of board members away and will lead to board turnover and subsequently a complete loss of any momentum that had previously been achieved. As people leave and new board members come on, continuity, organizational history, and consistency are lost.

Why Aren’t Your Board Members Engaged?

There are a few reasons a board member may be lacking enthusiasm that is simply out of your control, such as health issues, personal reasons, or time restraints that could be interfering with their commitment to the organization. However, it requires direct communication with them to discover the root of the problem and how they wish to proceed until they can re-engage fully.

It might have gone unnoticed at first, but as a board member’s initial excitement tapers and they settle into their role for the long term, they might feel lost and unequipped with the information and resources they need to strive. Without the appropriate tools to accomplish what they came to do; they’ll disengage without reaching out to you for guidance.

People also tend to lose interest in a mission when they have no goal in sight. Your board members signed on as people passionate about your cause because they were emotionally invested in what they imagined they could achieve. When a mission statement doesn’t align with current board activities or values, a board member might view their work as a lost cause and in turn, give up entirely.

How Can You Improve Board Member Engagement?

The key to engagement for board members is to have a great experience with an organization that they are mentally and emotionally invested in. Remember, each of your board members has their own personal reason for committing themselves to their role and above all supporting the cause. Tapping into their unique passions and allowing them to use them can lead to success for them and your organization.

Enthusiasm and focus will dwindle at your board meetings if they become too conventional. Focus not only on the present, but also the future by incorporating policy, strategy, and future direction into every agenda. This will encourage members to switch gears from reactive to proactive and offer them an opportunity for meaningful conversation and contribution.

One of the easiest ways to ensure board engagement is to have everyone start off on the right foot. Once you have them on the board, you must provide a complete orientation. You can’t expect someone to be fully engaged about an organization when they don’t have enough information to guide them.

When a board has gone through formal training, board members are better able to engage in the work of the organization because they’re not struggling with figuring out all the moving parts.

At the Canadian Nonprofit Academy, we’ve developed the Board Leadership Training Program to provide everything that you and your board need to ensure the long-term survival of your non-profit. Your organization’s ability to maximize its impact depends on having well-trained and engaged board members. Having board members up to speed on their roles and responsibilities (and Canadian non-profit best practices) is critical to your success.


Do you want to go deeper into getting your board more engaged? 

 Join Christina Becker, founder of the Canadian Nonprofit Academy for a free webinar on September 9, 2021. Click here for more information.