Wondering how to get board members involved? Assuming you have chamber board members…
You do, right?
You likely fall into one of two categories:
- Yay! My board members are awesome.
- Board members? I’ve been told we have some.
If you’re still reading this article, we’re going to assume you fall into the latter category.
Does your struggle sound like this?
You want prominent members of your business community on your board. Yet, people like that often are busy with their own hustle. They have successful businesses that they are taking in new directions or maybe they’re opening new locations.
Their business is their life. And let’s face it, there’s no money in being a (chamber) board member.
Because of this, your need for their time is always going to come behind the needs of their own businesses.
But all hope is not lost. We know chamber executives who know how to get board members involved. There are a many ways to light a fire under them and get more from an engaged board of directors.
How to Get Board Members Involved: First, Find Out What Changed
One of the first beneficial things you can do when one of your board members isn’t performing up to your expectations is quite simple: check their expectations.
According to Beth Bridges, the Networking Motivator and former Membership and Marketing Director of the Clovis Chamber of Commerce, it’s natural to wonder what has changed for that board member.
- Was the experience not what they were expecting?
- Did they overcommit?
- Was it not really clear what they were expected to do?
She suggests volunteers may not want to think out every little bit of what’s required of them. If that is the case, give it to them in digestible increments. Just tell them the first step. Then the next step. Then the next. Provide simple, short tasks that they don’t have to think about and they’re more likely to get them done.
Another problem that may be plaguing their performance is that they, or their peers, are on corporate boards. Some of those positions are very cushy, lucrative, resume builders, not hard work. If that is their impression of board membership, they may be feeling very disillusioned about chamber board membership.
In order to avoid this problem, you need to be clear about expectations on time and money before they accept/are nominated for the position.
But it also doesn’t hurt to do your best to make the chamber board a very illustrious position, if you want to attract a high caliber business person. However, don’t hide the amount of work required or you’ll have a lot more show ponies than workhorses.
Time to Get the Matches and Light the Fire.
If you want things to change with your board, you need to make some changes on your side. Knowing that can be overwhelming in not knowing where to start, we have compiled a list that will help you “kick the tires and light the fires!”
However, this list was not meant as a step-by-step instructional manual. Instead, you can select the ways below that work for you and within your bylaws, or if need be, amend your bylaws.
30+ Ways to Build an Engaged Board of Directors that Works
First, have your board members check out this article. Many times, a lackluster board is a product of simply not knowing what’s required of them. This article will give them some insight into expectations. While they’re reading that, you should take a look at how to build a better relationship with them. After all, relationships are a two-way street.
Now we’re ready for the work.
- Don’t bring on another board member without them reading your expectations document. If you don’t have one, go write one up. Post it in the office. Make it visual so no one can use the excuse of “I didn’t read it.”
- Ensure each board member agrees to the things listed in the expectations document.
- Don’t nag to get them to show up or recruit their number each month. Practice cause and effect in a very unaffected way like…
- Share with each board member what happens if they don’t live up to the responsibilities of the position. This “termination” or “infraction” document should also be written out for consistent application and clearer understanding. For instance, if attendance is required and you have a three strikes and you’re out rule, you need to stick to it for everyone. If someone has a legitimate excuse like a prolonged illness, consider placing them on hiatus (if your by-laws allow). That way no one can insist that you let someone else miss meetings and still remain on the board.
- Make meetings pleasant. Don’t waste time or turn them into complaint sessions. Give people a reason to want to come.
- Be respectful, honest, and transparent in your dealings with them and require the same. Do not tolerate bullying or berating.
- Offer referral awards and create competition.
- Know what motivates them. Spend some time at the board retreat getting to know what lights their fire. Some people are “hunters” in business and uber competitive. While others thrive off of praise. Know what gets them going and then personalize your approach when dealing with them.
- Praise your good board members publicly with repeatable examples. Those hearing your praise will then know why that board member is receiving it and there will be fewer accusations of favorites.
- When it comes to recruiting board members, ask your best board members for suggestions/nominations even if they don’t offer any publicly.
- Praise their skills and look for ways to use what they’re best at.
- Show them the chamber data. It’s likely your board has been taught to think in terms of numbers. If your chamber is coming up short in an area, don’t just show them the shortage numbers. Put it in terms of “if each of this group (like the board) did X, we’d succeed at Y.” And then challenge them to do so.
- Ask them for real-life examples of how they handled struggles and then listen. You’re giving them a way to shine and you’re also listening for what they’re most proud of and how they talk about it. The words they use can give you valuable insight into what they see as critical in success.
- Send reminders. You can automate them. They’re not that bad. Add humor and they’re even better and will get more opens. Speaking of opens…
- Track who’s opening what. If your board isn’t opening their emails, you need to address it with the people who are failing to do so on a regular basis.
- Create a mentor program among board members. Pair new to old, young to established, however you think will best work. Give everyone an accountability partner.
- Recruit new blood. Boards need to be refreshed periodically. Check your bylaws for how that should happen. You may need to refresh your by-laws as well.
- Make your board more diverse. Diversity will help end cliques and bring in new ideas.
- Use your board member only for strategy and voting. Consider them a high-level governing body. Draft volunteers and grow your ambassador program to handle member referrals and recruitment.
- Give the board a social media/content calendar. Don’t tell them what to post by giving them a script. That won’t look genuine. Instead, give them talking points about topics you’re addressing on social media or the blog. This can make their social sharing easier and more on point.
- Provide an agenda ahead of time (more than a few hours) so people can prepare. Track who opens it and who does not.
- Don’t have a meeting for meeting’s sake. Meet when you need to. Do a conference call when you don’t. You never want any of your board to feel chamber meetings are a waste of time. Before each meeting, ask yourself if it can be done in an email or on a joint collaboration page/group. There are even texting group apps that may fit your needs above meeting in-person each month. Again, check with your bylaws. Adjust if needed.
- Don’t lambast board members in front of others.
- Know the sides. While ideally, you don’t want cliques on your board, it’s important for you to know who aligns with whom and why.
- Always find the “Joan.” If you watched the TV show, Mad Men, you know the character Joan. She started off in the steno pool and rose to Queen of the Secretaries and later a partner in the ad agency. We won’t get into the details of her rise, it’s not the kind of action you want on your board, but it suffices to say that Joan knew a lot about everyone. She worked the different circles and knew when to say something and when not to. Most groups have a Joan, the person who quietly makes things happen behind the scenes. They build consensus or sabotage projects they don’t support. Find your Joan and always make it a point to know what they’re thinking/supporting.
- Offer options or ask for them. If your board isn’t following expectations offer them options. For instance, “attendance is a requirement for board members, yet half of you aren’t meeting those requirements. We can’t continue this way. We don’t even have a quorum for most meetings. What are our options here?” Wait to hear their suggestions or make some of your own. A consistent problem needs to be addressed. Don’t chide them. Involve them in a solution. (The solution may be asking them to step down.) Again, bylaws may need to be amended but if you involve them in a solution, they may be more likely to support it.
- Focus on the behavior you need to change, not the person. Even if you think their actions are personally directed against you, don’t treat them as such.
- Address issues quickly. Don’t let them fester. It’s not good for you or the culture of the board.
- Streamline what you’re asking for. The more you lay on the board as “absolute musts” the more they’ll forget. If there are only two things that are incredibly important like membership recruitment goals and attendance at meetings, dwell on those two and let the others slide. Figure out what is essential in their strategic role and focus on that.
- Consider the world. This may sound like a bit of a cop-out, but it’s important to note with the gig economy and the introduction of more Millennials in the workforce, changes in the social structure of society, and more, that flexibility is entering a lot of workplaces. It may be that your board members have made changes in their own businesses to address these needs and now see things like meetings as antiquated. If the chamber is innovating in a lot of ways, it may be time to be more innovative on the governance side as well. Ask yourself if this is a fight you need to have or if flexibility in attendance isn’t the better answer.
Also, always give them a “why.” People are more likely to support something they understand. If you find yourself in the position of “nagging” your board about requirements, make sure they understand why. If someone fails to show up on a regular basis, explain you can’t vote without a quorum. Help people to see how they matter and where their actions fit in.
Finally, make sure your chamber board is buying into the chamber story. When they do, they will be more apt to support the activities. It will be an obligation, but one driven by positive emotions, not guilt or some other negative connotation.