Excerpted from the newly revised edition of The Ultimate Board Member's Book: A 1-Hour Guide to Understanding and Fulfilling Your Role and Responsibilities
Chances are your board chair and CEO have never conducted yearly meetings with individual board members.
When introduced to the idea, many ask the logical question, "Why?" They feel their board is functioning well, members are giving, and people seem pleased with their committee or task force assignments. All's well in the world.
Even if that's true, a yearly meeting with each board member will both improve motivation and often increase their financial contributions.
Organizations that resist individual meetings cite time as the consideration. Board members won't care to spend an extra hour this way, they believe. My 30 years of experience refutes this. And, if someone really resists, there's no need to press further.
Here's what is to be gained from an individual meeting. Judge for yourself whether it's worth the time:
- A confidential forum for board members to express their concerns, desires, or issues.
- An opportunity to determine, with the organization's leadership, the nature and extent of their involvement for the coming year.
- Positive feedback for their current involvement and encouragement to stay involved in the most productive way.
- A personal solicitation of their gift that models the asking process they may be called upon to emulate one day.
In my opinion, the benefit of such a meeting can't be overstated. Yes, and there's one other critical reason for this get-together: it offers a gracious opportunity to "de-enlist" when necessary.
Sometimes, even a once-stellar board member no longer performs. And, too often, we let this slide for months or years. We rationalize for him—after all, he's a volunteer—and tend to make excuses long after we should.
Possibly the most challenging decision board members ever make is determining when and how to de-enlist one of their colleagues.
As necessary as the action might be, board members hesitate. They're concerned, rightly, about the person's feelings and how the fallout might affect the organization's reputation. What we fail to factor in, however, is that most uninvolved board members are looking for a gracious way out.
If your board chair and CEO are willing to meet annually with each board member, the angst over de-enlistment will dissipate. This is the best opportunity, in private, to ask why the person's involvement has declined.
Very often, a board member will confess that she's lost interest, has an ill spouse, a new and demanding job, or other such personal and pressing matters. At that moment, the board chair and CEO can thank the person for her service, acknowledge the current situation with regret, and offer her the opportunity to step down, perhaps temporarily, until circumstances have changed.
Once in a while, a board member whose de-enlistment seemed certain will even turn things around (probably due to the special attention received).
It's important to prune deadwood on a board. But it's also key to discover why the wood is dying. Only then can you prune correctly, or water and witness new growth.
Kay Sprinkel Grace
© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers. Excerpted from The Ultimate Board Member's Book: A 1-Hour Guide to Understanding and Fulfilling Your Role and Responsibilities, newly revised edition. Excerpted with permission.
Kay Sprinkel Grace is also the author of Over Goal! and Fundraising Mistakes That Bedevil All Boards as well as a regular contributor to Contributions Magazine. She is a prolific writer, creative thinker, inspiring speaker, and reflective practitioner. Her passion for philanthropy and its capacity to transform donors, organizations, and communities is well known in the United States and internationally.