3 Ideas For “Dealing With Your Board”

Membership December 11, 2014

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley
The members of your board of directors play an important role in running your organization. They lead the organization in meeting its mission, ensure financial stability and in smaller organizations, the board can also be responsible for day-to-day operations.  

But every board is different. Some organizations have smaller more close knit, casual boards with a loose structure. Other boards are larger with more rigidity and order. Each type of board faces its own unique challenges.

We held a Small Membership Advisory Community session on the topic of “Dealing With Your Board”, because we know that boards play such a pivotal role in these membership organizations. The session brought together board members, staff and volunteers of various organizations to share their questions, concerns and perspective on how to deal with boards.

Peers share support and practical tips on board management

Our aim with the Advisory Community of connecting people in similar roles, facing similar obstacles, has yielded some useful insights. This session, and the peer sharing, was particularly timely for one participant because she and her board were in the middle of a crisis. There was some in-fighting and her board was crumbling. She was looking for insight into how her peers had dealt with similar contentious issues with their boards. Our Advisory members rallied around her and offered different perspectives and solutions.

In this post we’ve offered highlights of some of the suggestions offered by Advisory Community members during the session. These contributor’s ideas have helped them accomplish more with their boards, and might offer insight to help you with yours.

3 suggestions that have proven successful for our Small Membership Advisory Community

All of the participants in the session agreed that their aim was to resolve disputes within the board and allow it to function smoothly, in order to “get some real work done.” We’ve captured some specific insights that were shared involving formal procedure and decorum. But we’ve also included some more informal, possibly even unorthodox ideas.

Here are three ideas put forward by Small Membership Advisory contributors:

1. Need to “get things done”? Implement Robert’s Rules of Order

Since Board meetings are where a lot of work needs to get done, running a smooth and organized meeting can make all the difference. One participant told the group that he finds it helpful to follow Robert’s Rules of Order to ensure due process is followed and Board members have a clear guide to follow regarding the running of the meeting.

First published in 1876 and currently in its 11th edition, Robert’s Rules of Order (by Brig. Gen. Henry Martyn Robert), is considered the definitive guide on meeting procedure and decorum and is widely used as a reference across many industries. One Advisory Community member said that The Rules have been modified to suit the meetings of non-profits and small organizations to help a board make their way through a discussion.

Consider incorporating some of these procedures into your board meetings to facilitate a more structured experience:

  • Quorum: A quorum is the minimum number of members who must be present for the meeting to be conducted and is usually stated as a percentage of the total number board members. For example, the quorum can be set at 70%, that means at least 70% of members must be present in order for the meeting to commence. Set a quorum and stick with it. Your board should know that attending meetings is important and that without a substantial number of members being present, work cannot begin. Keep in mind the size of your board and their participation levels when setting a quorum.

  • Agendas: All meetings should have detailed agendas that include talking points, past due business and future plans. Make sure your agenda has been circulated amongst the board well in advance. You want everyone to be prepared and on the same page.

  • Motions: A motion is a way of bringing up new business in the meeting. Any member can make a motion. Only if the motion is seconded can it be discussed. This prevents unwanted discussion and reduces time wasting from stubborn or contentious members.

  • Voting: Your board should be set up to handle voting. Smaller items can be voted on by a show of hands or a verbal vote. But more important issues should be voted by ballot. Adding rules governing how many votes it takes to get something passed and voting schedules, to the bylaws is a good idea.

You may already incorporate some of these procedures informally into your meetings. However, they are most effective when they’re made part of normal procedure and protocol. Set these and other procedures into stone and make an effort to follow them.

2. Need support for a new idea or initiative? Try lobbying in private

One of the Advisory Members noted that getting a favorable amount of votes is essential when trying to accomplish something with the board. But making a case for your motion, program or initiative in front of the whole board during a board meeting can sometimes be difficult. Members can have short attention spans or other important matters on their mind and not grasp the concept or initiative.

Our Advisory Member’s suggestion (that he has used successfully) is lobbying in private to personally make your case to the board. His process is to approach each board member before a meeting and present his case. The idea is that an informal, reasoned and well supported argument that is explained directly, is far more likely to make an impact when it comes time to vote.

3. Board not willing to change? Try parallel programs

We all know that change is hard. Boards can get particularly set in their ways and be reluctant to change. It was noted that this can be very frustrating for board members who want to initiate new ideas or processes. In fact one participant suggested that his board members had “no intention of ever changing it until they dropped off the perch.”

The challenge is that many initiatives and programs that could be beneficial to your organization may never have an opportunity to flourish, simply because of a reluctance to try anything new.

One participant suggested that simple initiatives can be implemented in the form of pilot programs that can run as mini versions of the larger proposed program. These programs or initiatives can run parallel to what’s already in place – offering an opportunity to demonstrate results on a small scale. In this way, it can often be easier to get board approval, without challenging the status quo.

For example, if you're trying to convince your board to implement an online event registration system or even a mobile app that can offer on-site event check-ins (such as Wild Apricot’s new mobile app), try offering online registration and payment as just one option, in concert with your existing manual process – let folks try it out and before you convert to an online process.

Want more insight into building a better board?

For more ideas, insights and resources on board management have a look at our Building a Better Board guide available in our Membership Knowledge Hub.

What is your biggest challenge in “dealing with your board?” Let us know in the comments below.

Image source:  Insight Green Road Sign – courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.


  • Vegan in Vegas:
    My group's board is composed of dinosaurs! To them, a typewriter is a new-fangled device. Sending out an email would expose them to hackers and identity thieves. The motto is "we've always done it this way and we have no plans to change". Guess I just have to wait for them to die off to effect any change.

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