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How Do We Get Board Members Engaged?

by Jennifer Hutchins

“Ugh. Can these meetings be more substantive?” “How do we get board members engaged?” “When WILL this meeting be over?”

We hear these concerns from our members across the sector—from universities and hospitals to land question-mark-boardstrusts and libraries. Tapping into your board’s unique attributes in a meaningful way is one of those pesky “never enough” conundrums—never enough time in the day or dollars in the bank.  Yet, taking the time to strategize about board engagement is not only important to your organization’s long-term health, it can also ensure that you are staying responsive and relevant to Mainers and their communities.

Technically, we look to our boards for financial oversight and strategic direction. Practically speaking, in Maine, where 73% of our nonprofits have annual budgets under $100,000, they are also often “worker bees,” participating in day-to-day activities. So, the idea of carving out time to step back and ask “what problem are we trying to solve” and “is this really the best way to solve it” can seem exhausting. Yet, this proactive, visionary role for the board executed well (called “generative thinking” in popular industry parlance) can increase board member buy-in as well as trust and allegiance in the community.

So, where to start?

Well, there are several resources online, including this book and this article in Stanford Social Innovation Review to guide you. But, a first practical step is coming to our upcoming Executive Leadership Forum – How Engaged Should an Engaged Board Be? in November. This highly interactive day will help you explore with staff and board leaders how to move beyond fiduciary responsibilities into strategic and generative work. 

We organize these forums, in partnership with organizations like Camden National Bank, to bring together Maine’s nonprofit staff and board leaders to explore emerging issues facing the sector. We provide opportunities to learn from nationally recognized speakers, discuss concerns facing our communities, imagine innovative approaches to help shape the future of the sector, and build relationships with other nonprofit leaders.

In this environment of great change, limited resources, and increased competition, nonprofits can no longer afford to have unengaged boards or overly engaged boards that offer minimal value. So before you sit through yet another meeting that doesn’t result in a meaningful contribution of your time, register for this event – and register your fellow board members. Your organization can’t afford not to.

Hutchins Headshot for Web square
Jennifer Hutchins is MANPs Executive Director. She has a strong background in encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation in Maine’s nonprofit community. She’s played a critical role in starting and growing groundbreaking programs such as 2 Degrees Portland and Maine Startup and Create Week. Jennifer is a proven effective cross-sector leader, a disciplined manager, and a champion for Maine.

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