How Can I Motivate My Board? Help!

June 25, 2015

Dear Rich,

My board just isn’t excited about the mission any more. Attendance at board meetings has fallen off, the committees aren’t following through on their assignments, and forget about asking them to raise money. We’ve got a competent staff, but they need some support. It wasn’t always like this. What went wrong and how can I rekindle their excitement? Help!

Dear Friends,

There are lots of reasons that hardening of the arteries and rigor mortis sets in with boards of directors. Sometimes it has to do with the members who have been on the board too long. At other times, the executive director is not spending enough time energizing the board and finding appropriate roles for each board member. Then again, if you don’t have a strong chair and an executive committee providing leadership, boards tend to lose energy, focus and passion.

Regardless of the reason for the problem, you need to have a board that is passionate about the mission and vision, and is engaged and involved in the programs and activities. Otherwise it is very difficult to make the strategic decisions that allow the organization to thrive.

My advice is to SLOW DOWN on regular board business and find time for a retreat where you should honestly and openly invite the board to discuss the loss of passion and energy to find out what is going on. Your job is to listen and to draw people out to make sure that you are identifying the problem correctly.

Sometimes, the problem will have a simple solution – maybe the time, location, duration, and overall conduct of meetings is no longer working for the majority of members. But if you can’t get forthright answers at the retreat, the issue may go deeper and could well involve personality conflicts. If that’s the case, you’ll have to find the time to invest in personal meetings with each board member. RMA often plays this role for organizations as board members will usually be more honest with us than with their colleagues – or even themselves. After a few conversations, we can usually identify the key issues causing conflict or stagnation.

Don’t try to improve things by recruiting new board members. Dissatisfied and unmotivated board members will undercut the excitement of the new people coming on board. Based on what the retreat and the individual conversations reveal, you may have to ask some board members to resign or to play another role within the organization rather than continue on the board.

A couple of Rich Tips in the RMA archive, High Functioning Boards Part 1: Asking The Right Questions and High Functioning Boards part 2: The Devil Is In The Details, will help you plan your board retreat or prepare for individual conversations.

For readers whose board is functioning just fine or might perhaps need a little tune-up, asking some of these questions on a regular basis throughout the year will help you develop a high-functioning board filled with energy, creativity and passion for the mission.

Good luck


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