Wednesday, October 25, 2017

7 Ways to Address Absentee Board Member Syndrome

Which statement below best characterizes your board’s response to absentee board members?

HO HUM. Certain board members frequently miss board meetings, but there is no board policy addressing absenteeism, so nothing is said.

HINT. When board members miss a meeting, the board chair (or CEO) gently “hints” that their participation was missed, but nothing further is said. Expectations on board meeting attendance are not clear and are not in writing.

HARASS. If there is a written policy, one willing soul on the board agrees to remind the absentee board member of the policy (usually with a strongly-worded email), but there is no follow-through or personal meeting with the person. 

Maybe your board responds more appropriately. If not, here’s my list of seven ways to address Absentee Board Member Syndrome:

1) Reference Checks. Recruit board members who have a track record of excellent board meeting attendance. Just as you expect your CEO to check references when hiring staff, so the board must check references of board nominees. How faithful was this person when serving on other boards?

2) Board Member Annual Affirmation Statement. Leverage a re-commitment time each year with an annual affirmation statement (download the template from the ECFA Governance Toolbox Series No. 1 and/or No. 2). That form should list board meeting dates and locations for the next 12 to 18 months—and annually give board members the option of exiting off the board if their schedules don’t align with the board’s schedule. (Or, change the board meeting schedule to accommodate all board members.)

3) Engage the Board With an Engaging Agenda. Sometimes (let’s be honest!), board members skip meetings because they are not needed. The CEO and staff do all the talking. Next steps are all buttoned down. There’s no room for generative thinking by the board. No heavy lifting. What’s the point of participating? This is easy to fix by engaging the board.

4) Establish a Written Policy on Board Meeting Attendance Requirements. If you have a Board Policies Manual, include board member attendance policies—and review them at least annually. Some boards have an automatic exit plan for board members who miss X meetings in any rolling 12-month period. 

5) Emphasize Calling Over Rule-Keeping. Al Newell, founder of High Impact Volunteer Ministry Development, writes: “Sustaining motivation is better understood as a by-product as opposed to a goal of itself. It is my experience that if you pursue discipleship with volunteers [and board members], motivation will follow. If volunteers see the fulfillment of their role as ‘obeying and serving God’ rather than serving you or your organization, it will cause motivation to swell.”

6) Affirm. Affirm. Affirm. Take time to creatively affirm board members for their participation and their contribution as stewards of your ministry. Board discipline (news flash!) is the board’s responsibility—not the CEO’s responsibility. Ditto affirmation. When board colleagues affirm each other, then engagement will heighten and board service satisfaction will soar.

7) Address Issues Early. Don’t wait for the fifth missed meeting. Create the expectation that your board chair (and perhaps one other board member) will meet personally (if at all possible) with policy offenders. No one should be surprised that absenteeism will be addressed frequently and in a God-honoring way. Pray for a discerning spirit to know when you must show grace—and when you must show someone the door.*

*Note: Watch for the new book next month, Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, and read “Lesson 31: Cut the Cord! Invite Board Members to Exit When They Don’t Live Your Values.”

BOARDROOM DISCUSSION: What person, or committee, is responsible for addressing absentee board members? What’s our current approach to missed meetings: Ho Hum, Hint, or Harass?

Monday, October 9, 2017

Called to Serve: No Board Detail Is Too Small (Index to 30 Blogs)

This is the final post, No. 30, in a series of blogs featuring wisdom from the 91-page gem by Max De Pree, Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board. (Watch for my new theme next week.)

Max De Pree: “…my experience has convinced me that no detail is too small to consider carefully when it comes to thinking about the important work of nonprofit boards and the people who serve on them.”

Perhaps, if you’re read a few of my color commentaries on this exquisite book, you may have wondered why I ended up in the weeds (the excruciatingly mundane details) so often. Blame Max De Pree: “…no detail is too small to consider carefully…”

But it’s time to wrap this up. I’ve enjoyed writing these 30 blogs and I trust they have inspired you to read Called to Serve—and you have inspired other board members, CEOs, and senior team members to also read the book.

Poignantly, during this series, Max De Pree was blessed with his heavenly reward. See No. 24, “Called to Serve: Max’s Most Memorable Message (1924–2017).”

Below are the titles and links to all 30 posts. It was challenging to pick my favorite topic, but maybe it was No. 14, “There Are No Committee Statues!” What was your favorite—or most helpful insight from Max De Pree?

1. Introduction: What Will You Measure in 2017?

2. Called to Serve: Violence and Committee Meetings!

3. Called to Serve: Loyalty Is Never Sufficient

4. Called to Serve: Challenged With Measurable Work

5. Called to Serve: How to “Table” a Thank You

6. Called to Serve: Governance Through the Prism of the Agenda

7. Called to Serve: The Bell Curve of a Board Meeting

8. Called to Serve: No Reading Allowed!

9. Called to Serve: Death by Committee

10. Called to Serve: What's More Important Than Structure?

11. Called to Serve: Do Not Censor What the Board Receives

12. Called to Serve: Coherence With Corrals

13. Called to Serve: The Prospect Pipeline

14. Called to Serve: There Are No Committee Statues!

15. Called to Serve: SILENCE!

16. Called to Serve: Board Member Self-Measurements

17. Called to Serve: Be a Frantic Learner!

18. Called to Serve: If No Progress—Skip the “Progress Report!”

19. Called to Serve: The Phone-Book-Size Board Packet Syndrome

20. Called to Serve: Use White Space to Practice Hospitality

21. Called to Serve: When Your Organization Is Bleeding and Boring Board Members

22. Called to Serve: The Ten-Foot Pole Tension

23. Called to Serve: Board Meddling on Management’s Turf

24. Called to Serve: Max’s Most Memorable Message (1924–2017)

25. Called to Serve: What the Board Owes the CEO

26. Called to Serve: The Error of Leadership Indifference

27. Called to Serve: Give Space…But Plan Sparingly

28. Called to Serve: Don’t Neglect Your CEO’s Growth

29. Called to Serve: Goal No. 1—Keep Your CEO Alive!

30. Called to Serve: No Board Detail Is Too Small (Index to 30 Blogs)

P.S. Click here to read my original review of Called to Serve.

BOARD EXERCISE: Invite three board members to each pick one of these 30 board topics and give three-minute reports at your next board meeting. Then, in groups of two or three, ask each group to suggest an important “board detail” that, perhaps, you’ve overlooked or neglected in your recent meetings. Then, pray for the board’s effectiveness in the months ahead.

To order from Amazon, click on the title for: Called to Serve: Creating and Nurturing the Effective Volunteer Board, by Max De Pree (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).