Traits of Highly Engaged Boards

Published on November 20, 2015

Michael Davidson

Board Coach
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According to a new national survey of nonprofit leaders, when it comes to board engagement, the glass is half full.

Executive Directors report that their board members generally have a passion for the mission, but that they are “removed from some of their key governance responsibilities.”

For me, the interesting question is not ‘why board members not engaged,’ but rather, ‘what are the traits of the boards where the members are engaged?’

Boards that are deeply engaged have three characteristics.

1. Mission connection is based on personal experience.
Board members are expected to regularly visit programs and to report at board meetings what they learned.

2. There are explicit expectations for board engagement.
Expectations for board members are taken as seriously as job expectations for staff, including:

  • Annual performance reviews with each board member
  • A process for board members to develop personalized objectives
  • Public recognition for high performance
  • Recommendations for re-nomination are based on performance
  • Exit interviews are conducted with departing board members
  • There are opportunities for the continued engagement of retiring board members

3. The executive director puts meat on the table.
The Executive Director seeks serious board engagement with important organizational issues rather than seeing such engagement as “micromanaging.”

There is no end to the important strategic and tactical solutions that board members could contribute to; if they were asked.

When board members are asked for their help they tend to be honored that their expertise is valued. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the more that is asked of us, the happier we are.


Boards are engaged when we pay attention to the reason they become involved in the first place–a commitment to the mission and a desire to have a real impact on advancing that mission


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