August 2, 2022

How to Prevent Board Meeting Zombies

At board meetings, do your nonprofit board member look like zombies? Like they are watching a video instead of engaging in a critical discussion?

Disengaged board members are frustrating, especially when you’ve got critical items on the agenda and follow-up goals.

What can you do to bring your nonprofit board members back to life and get your meeting back on track? And, create better board meetings? Lots!

This video explains why members zone out, an overall remedy, and offers three tactics to apply to bring more life to your next nonprofit board meeting.

Chapters of How to Prevent Board Meeting Zombies

00:00 Introduction

00:32 Why Do Board Members Zone Out?

01:09 How Can Your Meetings Start Strong?

01:42 Why Two is Better than Everyone

02:16 How to Cast Leading Players

03:38 How to Implement Zombie Prevention at Your Next Nonprofit Board Meeting

Do your board members look like zombies at your meetings? Sometimes are you tempted to pass around popcorn instead of asking for the next agenda item?

If this is you, it’s understandable that you’re frustrated. Disengaged board members, our disappointment not only to you but to themselves. However, there’s good news you have lots of power here, and lots of things you can do. I want to talk to you about why this happens, the overall mindset of how to fix it, and then three practical ways to transform your next board meeting,

Why Do Board Members Zone Out?

First, why do board members so easily disengage at meetings? Because it’s a natural tendency. Our brains want to go on automatic as soon as possible clawed messier in a Scientific America article talked about the brains being a lazy bum. The brain has a hard time, he says, staying focused on one thing too long ah, so this is a hint at the mindset or the remedy for this frequently invite your board to think and react to different items. What does this look like? Here’s where the practical tips come in.

How Can Your Meetings Start Strong?

Get your board engaged in the first few minutes of your meeting. You’ve probably used this technique or seen it done a lot. You’ve gone to a virtual meeting, and people say write down where you’re from in a chat room. This engages your brain and provides you information about who else is here and what the thinking is. Bonus points to use this technique either virtually or live to gather some information you need about your mission or your organization. Anything. It could be a question about what’s the largest gift you gave in this year to another nonprofit.

Why Two is Better than Everyone

The second concept to engage your board is to use one-on-one conversations. In Zoom, these are breakout rooms. In-person this is to find someone you don’t know and have a conversation with them about the key agenda item. When the people come back after about five minutes of discussion, you have them share. This has the benefit of engaging the members not only during the time of the one-on-one conversation, but as they have to share, they begin to listen to each other’s items and build on them. This creates the kind of momentum and involvement you seek.

How to Cast Leading Players

Another opportunity you have to figure out how to engage board members for a long time is to set up more host/ambassador roles. What is a host ambassador? It’s someone who comes to a meeting, and they know they’re going to be doing something very specific at that meeting. These can be set up in advance, or you can ask people when they get to the meeting to take on these responsibilities, all kinds of opportunities.

Here’s the good news is you have some of this going on. You have people giving reports. Here are some types of ambassadors you might consider: someone to keep time, someone to be a tech buddy if you’re online. Who is your most astute person who can send chat information to someone who can’t figure out how to open or go to a breakout room? How about someone who represents the voice of the donor? How about someone who represents the client’s voice at that meeting, and how about a person to be an ambassador to say how are we doing? Are we following the guidelines we set for how we want to run our meetings? All these roles can be changed. They can be kept for a quarter. However, you want to play with it, and your board likes it, but all of these invite your board members to do more than just watch and observe. They invite them to be part of the meeting and shaping  their experience in a board meeting  so it is lively, interesting, and transformative for your nonprofit.

How to Implement Zombie Prevention at Your Next Nonprofit Board Meeting

Figure out how you’re going to use one of these techniques to engage your board and prevent zombies from overtaking your next board meeting. And if this video has been helpful, share it with your board chair or a friend who also struggles with board engagement.

Discover more ways to have better board meetings here.
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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