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Free Agent Board Members

By Don Crocker, CEO/Executive Director, Support Center

How to keep your best board members motivated and engaged

Board members are really free agents, aren’t they?

After all, they can sign with another team instead of yours.

They can perform badly and just move on to another board opportunity.
They will probably be sought after by others if they perform well for your team.

So how do you keep the best engaged with you?

Don Crocker

Don Crocker

I’ve taken the liberty of adapting an article written by Marshall Goldsmith, Iain Somerville, and Cathy Greenberg-Walt called “Coaching Free Agents,” (Anderson Consulting and Marshall Goldsmith, 1999) to help you think about ways you can best keep your best board members motivated and engaged.

What follows are our Five Keys to Leading and Coaching Your Free Agent Nonprofit Board Members.

  1. Work to develop close partnerships with each board member.
  2. Board members who feel that they are valued for working with you as a partner in the organization’s efforts will be the board members that are most likely to be effective and the most likely to have high performance.  In partnerships, each person’s time and their efforts need to be respected and recognized.

  3. Recognize and deal directly with each board member’s self-interests.
  4. What, “self-interest”????  To work effectively, each side of any partnership needs to know the self-interest of the other partner.  Be candid about the reasons you recruit a board member and your expectations of her/him.

    Let each board member be candid about what they want to get out board participation and why they would want to be a board member of your organization.  We often think that “self-interest” should not be a part of the game, but we all want to get something out of our efforts.  As long as these self-interests are not “conflicts of interest” we are on the right track.

  5. Work to create collaboration and teamwork.
  6. While an organization should identify self-interests, it is a mistake to assume that your free agent board member cannot work collaboratively.  The best board members desire the chance to work with others.

    Plan strategies to build board member/board member and board member/staff member relationships based upon a shared vision and mutually agreed upon goals.  Retreats focused on refining the organization’s case statement or value proposition can help an organization in numerous ways and bring board members together around a common theme.

  7. Build your own flexibility.
  8. Treating everyone the same way does not work in our free agent universe.  Spend time identifying how board members want to work for and support your organization and what is meaningful to them in terms of responsibility and recognition. Be flexible in your thinking about how to accommodate these individual preferences.

  9. Create honest and open communication.
  10. While the boardroom may still carry a “heaviness” of pomp and politics, there is a real need to let in some light by creating more openness and honesty in relationships with and between board members.

    Build opportunities to allow board members to share their goals and expectations and find ways to share your goals and expectations with them.  Seek to maintain “win-win relationships with all board members.

    Our changing environment demands a new level of board engagement, focus, and energy.

    We need to go beyond the basic understanding of board roles and responsibilities to create new ways of working together to support the development of healthy, vibrant individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

    Tell us what you think and how you are working with your “free agent” board members to create a winning team to benefit the communities you care about.

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