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Discovering and Unlocking Your Board's Potential

Too often the board is a resource hiding in plain sight. A fully engaged and trained board can transform your organization.
byJono WarrenonSeptember 29, 2022

In a recent conversation with a nonprofit Executive Director, our mutual passion for social change and nonprofit organizations quickly became the central talking point. This dedicated nonprofit leader shared that their connections with the board were more commonly a detriment or a liability to mission impact than an asset.

Cause Strategy Partners is here to tell you that with intentional effort your board can become (and may already be) a major asset for strategic thinking and long-term mission impact – not just a rubber stamp, or worse: an obstacle.

One primary cause of nonprofit board underperformance is a lack of understanding around the board’s roles and responsibilities, and the solution: reset expectations by training your board. By continuously refreshing and grounding your board’s understanding of governance practices, you can begin to to create shared expectations and language for board meetings. A renewed expectation of board engagement can start to reshape a board’s culture.

In my role, I facilitate hundreds of governance training sessions for board candidates, nonprofit leaders and experienced board members. We encourage participants to ask deep and sometimes challenging questions that simulate the proper level of oversight the board is charged with. Not only does this reset expectations for board members, but – maybe surprisingly – it is fun too. The point is, being a fully engaged board member can be fulfilling.

Advancing and reinforcing the skills of your board through the power of experiential governance training will begin to raise the expectation for board service. When this raised expectation becomes the standard, your board will rise to the occasion. Outside of full board governance training, there are a few other ways that you can set a standard for your board.

Revisit the framework of your meetings.

When structuring your next board meeting, start by assuming your board has read the packet.

The board packet is a powerful resource, but that power is deflated when the meeting covers nearly all the same material. Running your board meeting with this assumption opens up time and space for new and powerful conversations. the time you have with your board is invaluable so rather than spending time reviewing what has already been written, the board meeting can take on new life by having generative and strategic conversations that are informed by the material they have already read.

Begin your board meetings with generative questions.

Once you have opened up more time by presuming board members have read the reports. Now you can begin the meeting with questions like, “what one word win our mission statement means the most to you and why?”, or “what motivated you to join this board?”

Leading a meeting with questions like these, set the tone and root the board’s focus on generative thinking rather on what must be done – the board isn’t responsible for a to-do list. The purpose for this? Spark their minds and hearts in powerful ways and ask for them to articulate of mission-alignment. By centering board members on the mission from the start, the discussion around voting issues will likewise be engaging and mission-focused.

Finally, build meetings that foster action outside of board meetings.

When you board shares congruent focus and engagement they are fare more likely to advocate for the organization outside of board meetings. Meetings are an opportunity to activate the board’s passion for the organization. One way to encourage this type of advocacy is to celebrate it in a meeting. Perhaps it’s a new donor introduction, a pro bono service connection, or a board member attending a volunteer appreciation event. By acknowledging these actions, others will follow suit.

To unlock the full potential of your board, these are valuable precursors to a deeper investment of training. Because we so deeply prioritize training for the board members we place, Cause Strategy Partners will encourage our nonprofit partners to invest in training that raises the expectation of engagement and level contribution both in the boardroom and between meetings.

Your board holds immense potential to be one of your biggest assets for mission impact. It simply needs to be discovered and unlocked.

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