Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

It’s not surprising that when we talk about the dynamics of a nonprofit board, we often think in terms of practicality. How long will the meeting be? Who is taking minutes? Is the budget report ready to review? All of these considerations are important, no doubt. However, when we focus exclusively on this minutia, we aren’t seeing the proverbial forest for the trees.

The real key to nonprofit board success is not “board management.” You can have the best budget report, minutes, and agenda in history, but if your board members don’t actually care, the nonprofit will still suffer. Simply put, by far the most important predictor of a board’s effectiveness is not board management, but board engagement.

What exactly is board engagement? Broadly speaking, it looks like a lively meeting of board members who are invested in their work. They come to meetings prepared and eager to discuss business. They donate individually, but more importantly, they are enthusiastic about telling others about the organization.

More specifically, these are the 7 pillars of board engagement:

1)    Attendance – Board members value their role on the board sufficiently so much, they prioritize making it to the majority of the meetings.

2)    Preparation – Not just warm bodies at the meeting, board members take the time to prepare for the meeting by reading the agenda and any relevant documents. They think through any new business or questions they want to bring to the discussion.

3)    Follow-Through – During a board meeting, people often commit to research a topic, ask an acquaintance about something, or pull some data. Whether or not they actually complete these tasks between meetings is a huge indicator of engagement.

4)    Volunteering – Some board members will have more time than others to give directly to the mission, but all should show some interest in being involved in what the nonprofit actually does. Sometimes this can be as practical as helping during a food drive, but it could also include dropping off snacks for volunteers and staying in touch with staff.

5)    Advocacy – A sign of strong board member engagement is robust advocacy. Engaged board members will tell their professional and personal networks about their involvement. They may even act as a representative of the nonprofit in media and government issues, as appropriate.

6)    Development – Fiduciary health is a prime concern of nonprofit boards. When they feel valued and invested in a nonprofit, board members will help the nonprofit find corporate sponsors, invite potential donors to events, and help identify earned revenue sources.

7)    Donation – Nonprofit boards have varying policies on individual giving requirements, just as board members will have varying giving capacities. The important thing is that board members show an interest in contributing their “time, talent, and treasure” to the cause.

Take a hard look at your board engagement, and see where you need to improve. Instead of “managing” the board, ask board members what would help them feel more invested and rewarded. By focusing on board engagement, you will see the health and impact of the nonprofit grow exponentially.


Jeb Banner, CEO of Boardable, a board engagement platform

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