December 14, 2015

Tips and Tools for Board and Committee Engagement

A common goal I’ve seen during my service on 11 nonprofit boards and government-related advisory committees is wanting to better engage a board or committee. Scaling a positive impact in the community requires hard work and intense collaboration. Involving strategic help from influential leaders is a key asset during this process.

Here are some key questions you may be wondering about with answers about tips and tools:

Why should you spend time engaging your board?

  1. More connections for raising awareness of your organization to drive additional funding.
  2. Decrease your risk by having key stakeholders to vet new ideas.
  3. Fewer surprises by having strategic alignment on your goals through regular interactions.

What are some processes for maximum engagement?

  1. Board meeting time of day and frequency is important for ensuring full attendance, a high level of energy, and maintaining momentum.
  2. Committee arrangement to provide structure for ongoing deliverables and ad hoc task forces.
  3. Internal communications calendar to provide regular organizational updates and key performance indicator dashboards.

What are some board committee structure options? (Options provided by Gary Baker)

  1. Board of the whole (3-12 members) with no committees and all task forces.
  2. Two-committee board (10-30 members) with a two-Vice-Chair system to provide a nimble approach.
  3. Traditional board (15-100 members) with standing committees for Executive, Finance, Programs, Membership, Fundraising, Nominating, Audit, Strategic Planning, and Marketing.

What are some activities to build engagement?

  1. Personal bonding time to build a working relationship across the board and with staff that could be ice breaker exercises, happy hours, and coffees.
  2. Strategic planning with board and staff for co-creation and involvement with the vision, mission, and goals.
  3. First-hand experiences so boards can tour your programs and see them in action to get a deeper understanding and connection to your work.

What are some tools you can use to build engagement?

  1. Real time virtual meetings using a system like GotoMeeting that features video and screen sharing to encourage interaction and flexibility when everyone can’t meet face to face in the same place.
  2. Multimedia storytelling with apps like iMovie to convey info in a compelling way that a regular PowerPoint can’t match to get a point across.
  3. Ongoing group collaboration leveraging simple free messaging tools like Grouptrail that has tools to get work done so board and staff have visibility into past and present board work while fostering more opportunities for interaction in between board and committee meetings.

How should I decide on what group collaboration solution to choose?

  1. Examine the company practices on pricing (is there a free version?), usability (is it simple to setup and use?), privacy (are there ads, or do they share your information with third parties?), and their corporate responsibility commitment (are they a B Corp, for example?).
  2. Make sure it can keep everything organized as you work on projects, events, and brainstorming, while also sending out email alerts to help with reminding your board to check and use it regularly.
  3. To increase efficiency and reduce back and forth messages, see if it has tools for getting work done: storing file attachments, polls to help schedule meetings and gather input for decision making, to-do items that board members can claim as they volunteer for tasks, and integration with other popular services like Dropbox.

How can I get user adoption with my board engagement tool?

  1. Conduct a live training at a board meeting and walk everyone through a real example of something you’d like them to collaborate on.
  2. Designate an online facilitator to post updates and files to keep the processes moving.
  3. Leverage the rule of three to create focused lists of action items at the end of each meeting and follow up on them in your tool afterwards.

I hope these insights are helpful for the great work you’re doing at your organizations.

I’ve been having fun using these tips as part of my role as Board Chair of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance based in Portland, Oregon. We’ve had a board retreat in a creative space at the office of a key stakeholder, hosted a board social featuring a bike ride to a popular Mexican restaurant, leveraged Grouptrail to track progress with board and committee work, and organized board members into deliverable focused task forces leveraging community members.

I’d love to hear from you: what’s worked, and what have been your challenges?

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Justin Yuen
Justin Yuen founded FMYI [for my innovation], a social collaboration software company with a commitment to sustainability, in 2004 after a successful career at Nike managing corporate sustainable development. His accomplishments there included creating organizational change programs, collaboration tools, the business case for sustainability, and global employee engagement efforts. Justin started FMYI due to his passion for sustainability, an interest in how advances in technology can help lessen our impact on the planet while positively affecting society, and how social media spurs innovation. He is on the Board of Directors for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, the Northwest Earth Institute, and the Board of Trustees for the National Crittenton Foundation. Justin holds a degree in International Studies from The Johns Hopkins University. Follow him on Twitter: @jyuen.
Interest Categories: Leadership, Organizational Culture
Tags: board, online tools