• Columns Fundraising

Why Your Board Members Don't Show Up

Updated: Dec 13, 2019


When our firm begins a relationship with a new or prospective client, we often hear the same things over and over again from the staff of a non-profit organization. These include: “Our board members don’t attend meetings. Our board members are not engaged. Our board members don’t give to the organization. “

Conversely, from Board members we often hear: “I love the organization, but I’m not sure what they expect of me.” And, “I don’t know my terms of service. I don’t know how many times I can be (or have been) re-elected. I was asked to join the board, but no one told us how long we’d be on it.”

A mutually enjoyable board-level relationship begins in the very first conversation about service. Here are five simple items the potential Board nominee and staff should discuss:

  1. Board members are expected to attend board meetings. It should be obvious, but absenteeism at board meetings is a major problem with many non-profits. If the board doesn’t have a quorum, they cannot conduct business or vote on any agenda item. Absenteeism is insulting to board members who do attend and wastes the time of volunteers and staff. OUR MESSAGE: If you agree to serve on the board, you’re agreeing to attend Board meetings. Show up!

  2. Board members are expected to give their time, talent, and treasure. It’s not a selection of one or the other, or even two of the three. OUR MESSAGE: If you’ve agreed to serve on a non-profit board, then your commitment means all three—time, talent and treasure. There’s an old fundraising adage: “Give, get, or get out of the way.” All board members should make an annual gift to the organization on whose board they serve. And if that organization’s board votes to launch a capital campaign, you’re obligated to make a special contribution. And once you’ve given, then it is expected that you will recruit others to contribute.

  3. Staff should offer a “Roles & Responsibilities” document to prospective board members. The R&R should include: terms of office, number of times that a board member can be re-elected (total board term), and the minimum annual contribution expected by a board member. The staff should also prepare the agenda and supporting documents at each board meeting, and have them available several days - a week, if possible - prior to the board meeting. OUR MESSAGE: Prepare and educate your board as to what you expect of them. A clear and concise document of expectations on the front end of a volunteer relationship will avoid heartburn and frustration during a board member’s tenure.

  4. Your board members are enthusiastic, but they don’t walk in the door with the same level of knowledge about the organization as the staff. OUR MESSAGE: Staff should offer continuing education on the mission and activities of the organization by scheduling a mission-related speaker or a stakeholder in the mission at each board meeting.

  5. Finally, if you haven’t addressed these issues with current board members, now is a good time to hit the “reset” button and create your own “Roles & Responsibilities” document to build a mutual understanding of expectations.

Need additional information on forging a productive, working-relationship between board members and staff members? The Columns Fundraising team will be glad to help!


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