Recently, a fellow association professional posted an interesting question in an online discussion group for executive directors and board members:
What have you done to move your board from apathetic to dynamic?
Obviously, nobody who reads this blog (board presidents, directors, staff, etc.) is a part of an apathetic board. And if you didn't catch the sarcasm, you may want to carefully consider just how important and useful these comments could be.
Here's a summary of the suggestions for dealing with and changing apathetic boards:
"Bring issues to the board ready for action and dialogue that address mission critical needs ready to be harvested. After a few meetings, apathy dissipates." - Norris Lineweaver
"New board members! I have recruited and added five new board members in the last year and a half. Having fresh ideas and energy has really propelled things forward and added new excitement and commitment from long time board members as well." - Kim Smith
"Establish a board self-evaluation process with objective performance benchmarks. Make board member recruitment and performance a key component of a board member's responsibilities. I came up with the idea of performance-based policy-dictated removal of any board member who performs below a certain score on performance evaluations for two consecutive reviews, as performed by a committee of their peers. - Edward Ober
"We achieve what we hold ourselves accountable for. A board falling short in accountability will also fall short in achievement, and that's a recipe for apathy and troubles. Maybe that approach will give them pause for thought, or a different perspective." - Karen Smith
"Our magic moment came when we had a board meeting without the Executive Director. It opened up conversation and got the board really thinking about its work. This was not related to a particular issue with the ED." - Merle Benny
"Make sure each committee has a work plan with goals, objectives and timelines. Follows the maxim: The best way to get and keep good Board members is to make sure they have something to do. The best way to get rid of Board members you don't want is to make sure they have something to do." - Carter McNamara
"Sometimes apathy and quiet is a front for lack of skill. Not everyone is exposed to strategic thinking and analysis in their jobs. They don't want to look dumb in front of their peers so they go stay silent. And a close cousin to the previous: Do they understand what you are asking? I'm seeing some folks who are social media clueless being asked to make decisions about concepts they don't understand and/or don't have exposure to. Since it's not a priority to them, they dismiss it and check out." - Cynthia D'Amour
The answer to transitioning from an apathetic to dynamic board starts with defined objectives and responsibilities for the board. They need to challenge your volunteer leaders. And directors need to be held accountable. Those who can't uphold their end of the bargain need to be transitioned to a more suitable position within the organization.
An apathetic board can hinge on the attitude of one or two members. AMR Management Services works with a lot of boards and one lesson I've learned is you can't force a volunteer to be accountable. But if they're not responsible and interested enough to be accountable to their peers, cause or profession, then it's time for them to find something else to do with their time. Accountability, actively pursued by the staff and engaged board members, will force the un- or under-interested members out.
Life's too short, and your organization's mission is too important to be left to a group of people who are not engaged and passionate about the fulfilling your shared vision.