Good Governance: How To Increase Trustee Board Engagement

Your charity board ultimately make all the key decisions, but every board is a collection of individuals, with differing motivations, abilities and time they can give. Moreover, they may not be around very often and, if you don’t attend meetings, you may see them rarely.

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Start at the beginning - recruiting

Some trustees see their role as turning up to 4 meetings a year, but good trustees do a lot more than that, so ensure you recruit good ones. Recruiting is a challenge, so here’s an article on how to do it well, with links to resources and organisations who will help you.

Make expectations clear in your adverts and during the recruitment process. That's not about being demanding, but being open and honest with people about what you're asking them to do. When interviewing, always ask how he/she feels they could best contribute, so you can make sure that how you engage with them, works for them and you.  

Then build on that - induction

Include in your induction form/notes, space to complete details of their networks and also how to join your social media platforms.  

Most will meet the CEO, but they should also be introduced to the wider team to build a relationship from the outset. If they bring expertise in a particular area, such as finance or marketing, ensure they meet that specific team.  

And, that they receive your events/activities diary, so they can come along, if they wish to. 

Building engagement - is not a one-off exercise

Why not create a simple engagement plan/diary? Some ideas:

• Include an events/activities diary in the board pack and, better still, include it as an agenda item. 

• Or send them invites to events.

• Make a point of thanking those who attend these and explain how their doing so has helped you.

• E Mail your social media links to the Board once or twice a year, asking them to join you, like and share.

• Like and share their own posts about your work.

• At New Year resolution time, send out a list of ideas for them.

• And, when the board carry out a skills audit (annually), include in this an audit of their networks.   

And requires leadership

Whatever you do, to make it work well, it’s important that the Chair leads by example and encourages other board members to become more involved. 

Some reasons to give them:

• Their contribution has a direct impact in helping you to achieve more.

• It helps motivate staff/volunteers and builds trust and confidence in the Board.

• It helps trustees gain a better understanding of your charity, to help them in their role. 

• It enables them to keep up-to-date on what’s happening, rather than taking up time at infrequent board meetings. 

• It’s fun!

Making the most of your limited contact time - board meetings

Boards usually meet 3 or 4 times a year for about 2 hours. That’s about 12 hours a year to do everything, yet too often trustees are given large paper pack-ups, sometimes with little notice and that not everyone can necessarily understand.  

Write your reports like a funding bid. Succinct, understandable, focus on the key issues and action being taken, be emotionally engaging and issue these in good time to give busy people the opportunity to read and consider them properly. Here’s a guide on how to make your reports impactful and less work.  

As part of this, when someone achieves something above and beyond, make sure the Board hear about it and record their thanks in the minutes, so you can tell the individual(s) involved. We don’t say thank you nearly often enough, and it helps them appreciate the work of staff/volunteers and see them as individuals.  And, thank the Board too, when they help you. 

Better still, invite more junior staff to present to the board. It’s good experience for them and their knowledge, passion and commitment usually has real impact in bringing your work to life for trustees.  

Tackling what many don't want to do - fundraising

Many charities are in serious financial difficulties, yet only 50% of trustees actively support fundraising.   

Many consider their role as a trustee to be their contribution to your work, but the Board is responsible for fundraising and CC20 spells out clearly their responsibilities for this. It’s the chair’s job to ensure that this is understood and to create a culture of supporting fundraising.

Many also feel uncomfortable about ‘asking for money’ or may not be able to donate a substantive amount themselves. However, there are so many ways in which trustees can support fundraising, that there’s something for everyone. The key is to find out which ones work for them and then help them do so.  

And, all too often, can't do - social media

Social media has exploded, but only in the last 5 years, so many trustees still make relatively little use of it.  Any board that doesn't 'get' social media, doesn't have the skills it needs.

Making them aware of your platforms on joining and from time-to-time is a good first step, but often people don’t know how to use them. Holding a fun training event for trustees with staff/volunteers, showing them your work and how to download the apps onto their phones can work really well and also helps them to engage more with the staff team.  

Alternatively, having reverse mentors, where younger members of staff are paired with trustees to help them learn can also work really well. 

And having a trustee digital champion, or communications lead, would give you an ally on the Board, to help you to continue to grow that engagement. 

Or, you could really go for it. MissionBox Engagement Communities is intended to be affordable for everyone, including smaller charities, and to save, time, money and resources by replacing the multiple communications tools that many of us use. 

The questions are phrased brilliantly - challenging how we prioritise our management time." Ecosystems Knowledge Network

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