Pay attention to the changing mood in meetings and start talking to people individually. Issues that may be hard to bring to a group can be taken care of privately. Try to see what is happening to the people. Are they overwhelmed? Are only a couple of people working hard, while others are basically coasting? The few who do most of the work are likely to feel the work is not evenly spread and may feel resentful and under appreciated. This starts slowly with a few directors taking on many tasks over time and the board assuming that all is well and "normal." until these people start to "flake out" or to refuse to do any other work and distance themselves slowly. Some people may just be too eager to take on more and not notice themselves that the work at the board has become full time and that wasn't really the plan. Don't take the "worker bees" for granted and offer to take away some of the work and give to someone else, even if not asked.
Another way to correct this problem is to be sure that everyone in the board has a role and if it's too much for one person, have the role shared by two or three people. Some organizations use two co-presidents, for instance. The point is to share the workload and responsibilities fairly.
A second problem facing a disengaged board is that only certain people are heard and others are shut down most of the time. So, make sure that everyone is heard because those shut down will go away and that may not be for the best interests of the organization. If bullying is part of this scenario, don't let it go unchecked. Those who are bullied will be out fast, to the detriment of the organization. It does happen.
A third issue is that directors may just lose interest in the board and the organization. To prevent this problem, make sure your directors are getting something out of the organization's activities. Some people may be in for social interactions and networking, while others are passionate about the mission statement and yet others are there to add to their resumes. If a board member doesn't get much back in terms of an exchange for the voluntary work, he/she will lose interest after a while. So, it's important to figure out why people are part of the board to begin with and keep the interest up. Maybe a member is looking for a job and putting him/her in charge of an area that directly relates to what he/she is looking for would be fabulous. Take your time to know what people really want out of their board duties.
Too keep up the interest, you could rotate board responsibilities around. Someone working for three years at a certain program may be tired of it and may need a change, even though the person may be comfortable in that role. But too much comfort can lead to boredom, and a change may be in order before the person's interest wanes. Maybe that person can work on a different program or area within the organization. Maybe he or she want to learn a new skill or meet different people. Offer suggestions to the person and see how he or she reacts.
Overall, the idea here is to recognize individual board members needs, and to take an individualized approach to board disengagement Oftentimes, people are just feeling under appreciated and not getting much out of the board as they expected. Since the board's lack of energy and commitment trickle down throughout the organization, this is a serious issue that must be addressed as soon as possible.
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