It would be impossible to have a working board that didn't occasionally encounter some challenges. We have pulled together some examples of common problems that have affected boards with some quick tips and links to additional information.
Our meeting attendance is poor. Check out the section on meetings on this webpage. You might benefit from stepping back and looking at the logistics of the board meetings - place, time, agenda items, discussions, length, frequency, etc. Consider using a quick online survey to gather feedback on these areas and others. The survey is a great tool to not only gather information but also gives reluctant board members an opportunity to voice their concerns and also, offer suggestions. The more you include the board in the development of the meetings, the more engaged they will be.
The executive director dominates the board meeting. Have you heard of executive sessions? They're not just for emergencies or for deciding about salaries. Going into executive session every so often allows the board to "think for itself" and discuss the program without the director. If the director tends to dominate the conversation or if the board looks to the director for every topic, having an opportunity to have a discussion on their own can be an empowering tool for creating better dynamics within the board. It also encourages the board members to take their roles more seriously - they own this organization and are legally responsible for it.
Board members don't want to fundraise. Often, board members will say they are uncomfortable asking for money. It may look like other people are more comfortable doing this, but it is hard! "Perhaps the problem is this: we see ourselves begging for money for a needy cause rather than offering an opportunity to invest in an organization that's addressing important needs in the community." (Kay Sprinkel Grace, Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards). Divide up the tasks involved in fundraising so board members can assist in the process in a way that best matches their talents.
No one wants to hold an office. Are you sure? Beginning with orientation, learn about the board member and what role they see for themselves on the board. Don't put people on the spot at a board meeting. Ask current board officers to speak with members individually; this allows them the space to ask questions and consider the commitment. It can also be a compliment to a more quiet member to have someone suggest they consider an office.
The board is made up of friends of the previous director. When a program experiences a change in leadership, it can either revitalize the board or cause some members to drop off. Activating a governance committee charged with the task of board recruitment is a key part of any strong board and insures the membership is diverse. Taking the responsibility of recruiting away from the director helps to avoid “stacking” the board with friends.
The board avoids doing a strategic plan. It may not be that the board is avoiding this work; they be avoiding putting time into something that doesn't seem to apply to them or that gets done just for the sake of saying the program now has a strategic plan! It is important to capture the interest of the board and let them know their investment in the process is valuable.
Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards (BoardSource 2005): Richard Chait, William Ryan and Barbara Taylor discuss the three types of boards: fiduciary, strategic and generative. Some boards struggle to transition to a strategic and generative board often resulting in the CASA/GAL program moving forward without the board transitioning to keep up with the needs of the program.