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?

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