March 18, 2023

How to Get Your Life Back: Establish Nonprofit Board Office Hours

You’re about to sit down to dinner when you get a text from a board member.

You’re in a meaningful conversation with your best friend, making headway on a problematic issue, and your phone rings. It’s a board member.

You’re in the yard, up to your armpits in weeds and mud, and your phone vibrates. You know, by the timing, it’s a board member.

It’s maddening. You want board engagement and a personal life. Why do your nonprofit board members call in the evenings and on weekends? And what can you do about it so you start your conversations ready to engage instead of being resentful?

Take a moment to step into their lives. Most board members have demanding jobs and focus on volunteer activities during non-working hours. Weekends and evenings are when you both tend to life’s essentials, spend time with family, and allow your minds to recharge. For board members, it is when they follow up on their volunteer work. Because they schedule their volunteer work during your downtime, it’s crucial for your well-being to set healthy professional boundaries. If board members regularly reach out to you 24-7 for non-emergencies, it’s a sign to establish more explicit boundaries.

Yes, the board is your boss, and you want to be available, but not at the cost of your life balance. Your downtime improves your health and the well-being of your organization. In turn, your board’s downtime refreshes their lives, too.

The Office Hours Concept

Establish “office hours” early in your leadership role. Reinforce and inform others about these hours as needed. During board member orientations, explain that you have designated times for connecting with members outside of meetings. List your specific hours and ask for their preferred times among these. Remind them they can always leave a message or send an email or text, and you’ll return the call during their preferred times unless it’s an emergency.

Many board members are familiar with the concept of office hours from college. To get your board to use them, “tell ’em early and tell ’em often.”

How to Implement Nonprofit Board Office Hours

To start, establish three two-hour blocks of time. Depending on your schedule, you might select:

  • Sunday 7-9 pm
  • Tuesday mornings 7:30-9:30 am
  • Thursday 4-6  pm

This schedule serves weekend warriors, early birds, and folks who like to clean their desks before the weekend.

Reserve your board office hours to meet, return messages, and do board-related tasks. Respond to emails, calls, and texts during those hours. Plan the next board meeting and so forth. Batch your responses to emails, calls, and texts during those times. Consistently offer call-back times during those time frames.

Think of it as establishing a path in the woods: use the trail often, and you’ll create a new, well-worn habit.

Long-Term Impacts

Establishing office hours doesn’t mean you’ll never have a conversation during the evening or on weekends. It just means those conversations will be rare.

What’s the value of board office hours? Better interactions and better time management. After all, time, not money, is the resource in the shortest supply at successful nonprofits. By managing it well, you enhance everyone’s effectiveness and well-being. Besides, it’s a professional approach.

For more tips, check out the Nonprofit CEO Library. And for solutions delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for Karen’s CEO Solutions.



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.


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