Communication the key to building an effective board

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Talk with all your board members, says Maeve O'Byrne, Nanaimo and District Hospital Foundation, at least once a month, and outside the parameters of the board meeting. Keep your eyes and ears open. If something important is happening in their lives acknowledge it through conversation, letters, cards and telephone calls.

Leading a discussion group on Board Involvement at the recent meeting of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners in Vancouver, O'Byrne advised gift planners to recognize their board members' strengths and weaknesses and work around them. If they say they will do something, hound them, she said, but consider their interests, experience and education when suggesting tasks.

When recruiting new Board members, look at the talents you have and what is missing. Work with the current board executive to identify new members. Existing board members should make the initial approach and staff should follow up (honestly and with precision). Ensure you have a board package that outlines expectations, board and committee terms of reference, and organizational policies.

After their first board meeting, arrange for the senior staff officer to meet them, answer questions and discuss their needs and those of the organization. Think about the fit and what excites them. Publicize the new board members, affirming publicly their commitment to, and role in your organization. Then, after six months, evaluate the relationship. Meet with them individually to probe for, identify and discuss any problems.

Offer them the opportunity to learn. When budgeting, allow for board member education, and encourage and involve them in the process as full members of the team. Sometimes this may mean that staff stay at home, but this gesture can mean a lot and will pay off in the long run.

Use their time efficiently. If it can be done by phone, do it. Get to know their secretary or assistant by first name.

Be honest if it is not working. Talk with them, the chair, and the individual who nominated them and discuss without pointing fingers. Try another committee, look at meeting times. What is the problem? Can it be solved, if not why not? If they wish to step down - their decision - ensure it is done with the least embarrassment.

Finally, O'Byrne suggested, give recognition and ensure that your President/Chairman acknowledges their contribution both at the board level and publicly.

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