July 27, 2022

9 Ways to Engage Your Board at Virtual Meetings

Virtual nonprofit board meetings are here to stay. Nonprofit leaders have adopted them for keeps. Why? Members don’t have to drive, can wear their PJs, and can attend from across the globe. Attendance is up.
But this benefit comes with a high cost.
Virtual meetings mean less board engagement.
Or not?
Hale and Grenny found that in a study of 200 people, 86 percent of people showed even higher engagement in virtual meetings than face-to-face ones when the meeting is structured and facilitated in the right way. (italics added)

How to Engage Your Nonprofit Board “the Right Way” at Virtual Board Meetings

You can actively engage your board and get the same or better results during virtual meetings. Along with your chair, you already know you need a thoughtful agenda. You encourage members to turn on their cameras and display their names at your meetings. What else can you do to engage your board during virtual meetings, so you have better board meetings?

9 Tactics that Make Your Virtual Nonprofit Board Meetings More Engaging 


1.    Bump Up Mission Moments

Consider asking a member to report on a tour or volunteer experience. Or create a dual staff-board member report. Why does this work? You use the power of peer referrals which carry more weight than staff reporting.

2.    Schedule Everyone to Share Immediately

The challenge with online meetings is that only one person can talk at a time. Overcome this by getting everyone to speak early. After completing your consent agenda, pop everyone into a breakout room with a partner to answer a top agenda question. Why does this work? You signal that the meeting requires interaction, not passive watching, and introverts have the opportunity to express their opinions.

3.    Engage Every Five During the Rest of the Meeting

Request your board for a response every five minutes for the rest of the meeting, such as
  • Raise their tech hand if they agree.
  • Write their reaction to a report with one word in chat
  • Jot a number. “On a scale of one to ten, rank your commitment to the decision.”
  • Brainstorm three ideas individually and paste them into chat.
  • Add a quick poll and discuss the answer.
Why this works: You learn cool stuff fast, everyone gets to participate, and the answers replace the body languages you’re missing.

4.    Draft and Practice Discussion Questions

How hard is it to ask good questions? Very.
Ask lawyers and doctors.
For instance, “I’m looking for three ideas to bump up our program evaluation” is better than “How can we make our program evaluation better” The first directs members toward practical solutions rather than philosophical discourse. Why this works: Ten minutes of rehearsal avoids 30-minutes of potentially dull discussion.

5.    Let Silence Speak.

Inset five to seven seconds of silence to answer your question before asking a new question or clarifying your query. Pretend silence is the name of a board member who always speaks first. Why does this work? People need time to realize you want a reply, to form one, and decide to share it. Five seconds is barely enough time to do those tasks.

6.    Interrupt Better.

Learn to interrupt well. Help the long-winded to finish up by stating:
  • “May I jump in here?”
  • “Let me rudely interrupt.” (Smile)
  • “Let me summarize what you’re saying.”
  • “Can I check something here? Does the board agree that we decided this and it’s time to move to the next agenda item?”
Why this work: You help passionate individuals remember that the board is full of people who want to share insights. (Hint: Put interrupting conversation hogs on your governance committee’s agenda.)

7.    Add On

Offer an Optional 30-minute mission-rich conversation before the meeting. For instance, invite people for “coffee” and discuss:
  • What a board member learned during visits to sister organizations,
  • Responses to a Wall Street Journal or New York Times article on your mission,
  • Conference takeaways
Why does this work? You provide quality content to educate your board members in a social setting with plenty of time to catch up.

8.    End Ten

Schedule your meeting to end ten minutes before the next hour or half to give people time to take care of urgent matters, stretch, and get ready for the next event. Why this works: When you embrace the challenge of back-to-back meetings, your members will learn they can stay for all of the meeting and be ready for their next appointment.

9.    Close with Shout Outs.

End your board meeting with an invitation to members to thank others. For instance, “What have you noticed other members doing during this meeting or that you want to celebrate” Why this works? You finish strong, and as motivational speaker Robin Sharma said, “Finishing strong is epic.”
You will hold at least some of your board meetings virtually this year. What will you do to drive your board’s engagement during them?
Check out these board resources for more about board engagement and better board meetings.
Subscribe to Karen’s CEO Solutions for free practical nonprofit tools and innovative insights just for nonprofit CEOs in your inbox.
Karen is available for a mini-consult or more to support you and your board. Click here to email or here to set a time to chat.


Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


If you appreciate these Added Value posts, please consider subscribing.

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Karen Eber Davis Consulting. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Posts