As a chamber professional, your chamber board members can be lifesavers to you or they can make you feel like you’re drowning in problems.
Whether you inherited your board when you came on as president or you worked to recruit them, you need a high-functioning board to do your best. The first step is to recognize your frustrating chamber board problems and then you can solve them with our tips.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the most common and difficult problems in chamber boards and give you strategies to get everyone working together for the betterment of the chamber.
Frustrating (But Common) Chamber Board Problems
Do any of these board members sound familiar to you? Too busy, micro-managing, ignorant, conflicted, over-stepping, overly-agreeable, or constant naysaying?
If you’re like most chamber professionals, you’ve probably struggled with one or more of these chamber board problems during your tenure.
Keep reading, because there’s good news. Most of these challenges can be addressed though through education and understanding with well-developed strategies such as a solid board retreat or board introduction program .
Problem: Board Members Who Are Too Busy
How often have you asked for volunteers and your requests go unanswered?
You look at your board and they stare at their devices? Or agree to help but never show up?
Some board members believe that attending meetings is the extent of their required volunteer time. They think that lending their name to your board member list is enough.
While many busy chamber professionals think it’s easier to just work around those nonhelpful board members, it can be detrimental to your chamber. The inactivity of these board members comes at a price. After all, every inactive board member you have is taking a spot from someone you could recruit who legitimately wants to be involved.
Participation should not be optional.
You likely expect board members to give of their time, talents, and treasure and you must ensure they know this. Set expectations for your board members every year. In addition to communicating the number of meetings they must attend and what will happen if they don’t attend them, you want to ensure you address expectations surrounding things like event attendance, sponsorships, and committee leadership.
Look to your bylaws for guidance to see what is expected of board members. If no specifics are addressed, you’ll want to create a board expectations document and require that your board members sign it.
Problem: Micro-Managing Board Members
Some chamber board members simply don’t understand what is on their list of things to do versus what the president of the chamber should be working on.
These board members often insert themselves in a micro-managing way in areas that should be left to the chamber president. Examples of things like this include getting involved in staffing issues, branding, and other day-to-day administrative activities.
While this challenge can be aggravating, this chamber board problem is an easy one to solve assuming it’s a simple misunderstanding of the board member’s role. You must educate them on what you need their assistance with and what falls under your daily tasks.
Make sure they understand they were asked to be on the board because of very specific business expertise and skills. Overseeing the administrative aspects of the chamber is an ineffective use of their time.
Some chambers have created an infographic or checklist to show board members what their role is and what is handled by the chamber president/CEO.
This simple document ensures everyone is on the same page and there are no inefficient redundancies.
It’s a very different issue if the board member is on a power trip, intentionally sabotaging, undermining or genuinely thinks you are unable to perform your job duties. This requires an in-depth article on its own because this can be one of the most chamber board problems, but the solution starts with the board member recruiting process.
Problem: Not Understanding the Chamber Mission or Strategic Plan
Board members should be involved in the sign-off of the strategic plan. However, even when they are, some of them forget the goals or mission and want the chamber to get involved in everything. This rarely goes well.
The chamber should adopt a “does this fit our mission or strategy” approach for every new activity presented.
With this approach implemented, deciding not to do something that another board member presents does not become an emotional argument or plea for the chamber to pick up the baton. Instead, the proposed activity is presented by the interested board member. It’s then decided that it either fits with the mission and goals or does not, making it easy to stay on track and supporting only activities that move the chamber closer to its goals aligned with its strategic plan.
Problem: Conflicts of Interest
It’s possible that during a board member’s term an issue may arise that requires their input but may also present a conflict of interest.
When board members are brought on, they should be educated about the legal requirements behind being a board member and that means placing the needs of the chamber ahead of whatever business or personal interests they may have.
Conflicts of interest can also arise if a board member decides to run for an elected office or becomes employed by the city where your chamber operates.
This is a legal responsibility for every board member.
If they cannot differentiate and decide on behalf of the chamber, they may need to be recused from the discussion and any votes. The chamber bylaws likely have some language around board responsibility and guidance. Signing a separate conflict of interest form is common.
Problem: Board Members Who Think They Speak on Behalf of the Chamber
Some chambers struggle with board members who believe that their opinion is the voice of the chamber.
This mistake can be costly. You cannot allow every member of your board to speak on behalf of the chamber. This is a good way for things to get muddled and confused, as well as personal interests being voiced or interpreted as chamber interests.
Check your bylaws.
Within those bylaws there is likely a section that dictates that while the decisions of the chamber may be made by the board, communicating those decisions to entities such as the city or the media should flow through one person, possibly two. It’s likely these two people are the chairman of the board and the president/CEO of the chamber. It should be well-known—i.e. communicated—who speaks for the chamber.
Problem: Rubber Stamp or Naysayer Board
These are opposite problems that create the same frustrating chamber board problems. Board members have fiduciary responsibilities that are governed by the bylaws, local laws, and regulations.
If you have a rubber stamp board member who says yes to everything that comes down the line, they are not exercising their fiduciary responsibilities. On the other hand, a board member who says no to everything creates a stoppage that makes it difficult to work around.
Ensure that all board members understand their legal responsibilities to the chamber.
Hopefully, if they understand how they can be held liable for problems that occur on their watch, they may do less rubberstamping and spend more time understanding what is being presented.
To address the issue of a cantankerous, naysaying board member, you may want to find out more about their motivations. Do they say no to everything because they are worried about their fiduciary responsibilities? Or are they striking things down because they think that’s within the best interest of the chamber? Maybe their initial reaction is always no without better understanding or insight.
Your board can provide valuable help as a chamber professional.
If you are struggling with them, it may be a lack of education on their part and not understanding expectations and responsibilities. In that case, a board retreat or orientation meeting focusing on how to be the best board member they can be is likely in order.
You may also want to read (or better yet, let your board read): I’m a Chamber Board Member. Now What?