As Main Street planning consultants, we are often asked, “How can I get my board to be more engaged?”
We have some answers to that question.
1. Identify potential board members NOW.
-Keep a running list of candidates and their respective talents and expertise
-Provide opportunities for candidates to learn about Main Street and board roles and responsibilities: hold a reception, Q & A session, or public training workshops
-Take a “keep friends close and enemies closer” approach when you have difficult business or property owners and consider asking them to serve
2. Invite the community to share its vision with the board.
-Provide the board with data for building a plan and seeking the best direction for its work; community input is an important piece of that information
-Hold a town hall or public input meeting; use a skilled facilitator to conduct sessions so you aren’t put on the spot by anxious or confrontational participants
-And/or conduct a survey for gathering ideas and insights; allow tourists and visitors to complete surveys – they have valuable opinions and will appreciate being asked
-Use surveys and public meetings as an opportunity to educate the community about your organization
3. Strategically plan the board’s work and work the board’s strategic plan.
-Create a plan that brings focus and clarity, produces high-impact projects, and taps into a board’s time and talent
-Use a skilled meeting facilitator to lead the organization’s strategic planning retreat – preferably someone who can “speak” Main Street and understands the relationship between the office and the board
-A facilitator can gently insist that board members commit to take action and support the Main Street mission
-Keep the plan front and center by posting its goals on the board’s monthly meeting agenda
-Refer to the board as “our board,” not “my board” (ditto for “our chair”)
4. Match board members assignments to their talents and passions.
-Recognize that board members bring particular skills and expertise to the board, abilities that should allow the board to take on powerful projects
-Guard board members’ social capital closely – don’t use their time for events that don’t give you enough “bang for the buck”: in other words, avoid asking a banker to sell fundraising tickets if she can use her volunteer time to create a low-interest loan program for downtown business owners
5. Inform and involve the board chair in Main Street office activities.
-Stay closely connected to the chair in order to build an engaged working board
-Hold weekly talks with the board chair to focus on progress of key work plan priorities
-Present your chair a co-champion to the board and community
- Take advantage of rotating the position of chair: each member who has served as chair will bring a better understanding of what the Main Street office does and what is required of the board
6. Cultivate the relationship between the board and city council.
-Encourage city leaders to attend board meetings
-Ask the chair to help present Main Street reports at city council meetings
-Whenever you hold a reception, art exhibition, or open house, invite both organizations to attend (and let each know that the other is attending)
-Ask city council members or the mayor to stand with the chair and introduce concert acts, cut ribbons, or make brief remarks at events
-Encourage board members and city council to be front and center for photos and events, while, you as the director, are in the second row, a few steps behind them
Board development takes time, but it's worth it
An effective board is an incredible tool for the Main Street organization. But effectiveness is not built-in. Strong, engaged working boards require ongoing nurturing and communication.
Resolve that 2020 will be the year of your best board ever!