Ask most any educational, healthcare, or social nonprofit executive about the goals they have for their Board or Advisory Council and you will hear phrases like, “deeper engagement,” “philanthropic leadership,” and, “meaningful volunteer experience.”
What we say, however, often stands in stark relief when compared to how we actually behave.
And, in the case of Board relations, it is common for the same executives who profess to want more authentic engagement, leadership, and meaningful experiences to behave in ways that promote exactly the opposite – or irrelationship – with Board members.
For instance, if Board meeting agendas are structured primarily in ways that position the Board as a mostly quiet audience receiving information through performative reporting, we are not deepening engagement. We are, instead, disengaging.
Or, if we fail to visit regularly and individually with Board members to explore with them ways their personal values and giving motivations can be supportive of our institutional mission, we are not inviting philanthropic leadership. We are, instead, communicating that their giving as a Board member doesn’t hold special status for the institution.
Or, if we are not providing ample and consistent time for Board members (along with spouses and/or partners) to interact socially, we are not adding meaning to the volunteer experience. We are, instead, discouraging esprit de corps.
We practice irrelationship with our Boards in many unconscious and subtle ways. We perform. We present. We distribute. We set the agendas. And then we ask them to receive. We ask them to approve. We ask them to support. But, mostly, we ask them to stay as quiet as possible.
We do all this – we practice irrelationship with our volunteer leaders – primarily because of our anxiety around staying in control. It’s far less stressful to manage the Board rather than authentically engage them.
What we forego, though, are all those things we say we really want.