We all know that truly engaged Board members will be your biggest advocates, volunteers, fundraisers and friend-raisers. But lately it seems that so many associations are experiencing the same challenge: trying to reignite a disengaged Board.

*Caveat: If you have a 100% engaged, committed and dedicated Board, consider yourself lucky and read on for some tips on how to maintain your good fortune. For the rest of us, keep reading for some helpful ideas on how to improve your situation.

  1. It may seem simple: bring on the right Board members to begin with. It sounds obvious but it isn’t. The only way to know if you are bringing on the right people is to establish the criteria you are looking for in advance. For instance, if your objective is to bring on someone with a strong fundraising background, be sure to ask the question in advance. Set out your expectations. Ask for a specific commitment. Now is not the time to be shy!
  2. Make sure new Board members (and even current ones!) understand what will be expected of them. Create a Board orientation manual that outlines expectations and roles. Most not-for-profit Boards are both “strategic” and “working” Boards. You want Board members who are willing to work between Board meetings and who come to all meetings well prepared.
  3. Ensure that all Board members know what their responsibilities are, such as:
    • attending Board meetings on a regular basis;
    • reading all materials prior to the meetings and coming prepared to participate fully;
    • coming prepared to discuss and vote on any issues;
    • promoting the organization;
    • declaring and avoiding conflicts of interest; and
    • helping set the strategic direction (i.e., approving strategies and goals).
  4. Create a calendar of when Board meetings or conference calls will be held. Try to gain consensus of when the best time is for all members and schedule them six months to one year in advance. Scheduling meetings for the same day and time each month will allow Board members to plan around their “real” jobs accordingly.
  5. Ensure you have a strategic plan that outlines the mission and priorities of the organization for the next three to five years. All ideas and undertakings should align with the strategic plan, so it is extremely important that your Board understands and supports the plan. At the same time, the Board should re-examine the strategic plan every three to five years to ensure that it still represents the priorities of the organization.
  6. Take the time to find the right committee for your new Board members to join. Some people join Boards to share their professional expertise; others are looking for a new challenge. Finding the right fit is key to keeping your new Board member engaged.
  7. Establish a positive culture of respect, but don’t ignore dissent. An engaged Board requires all its members to be free to express their thoughts, regardless of whether their ideas are popular ones.
  8. Begin your Board meetings by reminding the members about the goals and mission of the organization. Structure your agendas around strategic priorities so that the Board is continually being asked to think about the future and see the “big picture”.
  9. Periodically ask your Board to evaluate how they think they are doing, how the Chair is performing and how the staff are performing. There are many evaluation tools readily available at csae.com.
  10. Keep it positive! Board members should feel appreciated and valued. Send thank-you emails to them on occasion and don’t forget to thank outgoing Board members!


Denise Craine, CAE, is the President of Secretariat Central and has over 25 years of association management, governance, client service and project management experience. Denise is a Certified Association Executive (CAE) and serves as the Executive Director for many of Secretariat Central’s clients, including the Canadian Geriatrics Society, the Canadian Association of Radiation Oncology and the Canadian Critical Care Society.