Retaining Excellent Nonprofit Board Members by Keeping Them Meaningfully Involved – Part II

Retaining Excellent Nonprofit Board Members by Keeping Them Meaningfully Involved – Part II

By: Eugene Fram

Board members will stay interested and involved in their nonprofit organizations if they are convinced that their activities have a purpose and serve the organization. This is what I call meaningful involvement. And as a side note, being pertinent and time-limited is especially applicable for younger individuals building a career, only because this group is now used to immediate gratification and to projects that last no longer than the equivalent of a semester. When board members feel their involvement is meaningful, they will often remark, “Assignments are interesting and well organized.”

Following are some hypothetical examples: of meaningful involvement:

Director A is particularly interested in determining whether programs that have been in existence for some time are still viable or whether they should be revamped or discontinued in light of some new communications technology that are being developed. When the chairperson asks Director A if she will serve on the Assessment Committee she willingly agrees.

Director A’s first assignment is to work with two other committee members to evaluate the organizations’ information technology (IT) capabilities. Their task is to talk with the agency’s IT specialists and other staff and then to make recommendations about the future impact of IT on the organization’s programs. Their findings and recommendations will be communicated to the full Assessment Committee and then to the Executive Committee and the full board.

Director B, at the same time, has agreed to serve on the Planning and Resource Committee. He volunteers for a joint board/staff ad hoc committee assigned to evaluate the feasibility of starting a new pilot program. Director B will head a five-member group charged with determining whether this kind of Program is appropriate for the organization. The sub-committee must determine whether such a service fits within the organization’s spectrum of services, whether the community would view the organization as an independent service provider and whether it is financially viable. (As a policy, the organization will support a small financial loss, if the program solves a community problem.) The committee expects to make a report to the full Planning and Resource Committee within two months.

Director C is an accountant. He agrees to serve on the subcommittee assigned to investigate options for improving the organization’s financial position. One of those options involves hiring a part-time development specialist for the organization. Director C anticipates his group’s report will be in the hands of the full board within the next twelve weeks.

Note that all of these directors work in small groups on specific tasks, with each director being involved with such an assignment about once a year. When they complete their tasks, all three should feel their talents have been utilized in important ways to benefit the organization and to continue to contribute to one of the three major committees on which most serve.

With large boards, a few directors who can commit more time are given responsibility for longer projects that may take six months or a year. For example, I once headed a committee that led to a merger with another organization. It took about 15 months of due diligence and negotiations to bring about a very successful merger.

Source: Policy vs. Paper Clips, 2011, Third Edition


  1. Gerald: Both have signifcant responsibility to make certain the directors see their positions as being meaningful. It should be a partnership goal that needs to be continually reviewed. Gene


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