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Don’t Be Caught With a ‘Bored’ Board

Once upon a time there was a nonprofit board that had members who were bored.

Members would come to meetings and listen to reports—long, boring reports—about conversations officers, committees and staff had since the previous board meeting. And members would listen and sometimes they even voted. They voted very properly with someone saying, “I move to accept.” Then the chair would ask for a “second,” which led to all saying, “yes,” for the most part. Everything was very proper.

When there were no more reports and no new matters, someone moved to close the meeting and another seconded, and members got up and left the room. And in the next month or alternative month, or even quarter, the same thing would happen all over again, although the numbers on the financial report may be slightly different. And then there was instances where maybe someone had something to say, then there would be a motion to close the meeting, and someone would say they “seconded.” And everyone would get up and leave once again, although maybe put on their coats and hat and gloves because it might be late fall or winter.

But one day, one board member raised her hand and was acknowledged by the chair and said: “I’m really bored. I don’t feel like I am making any difference. I don’t even know what’s going on here. And, I don’t feel very useful.

That board member, the one who said she was really bored, next said, “I have an idea! I would like to hear some stories about the people we are serving and what we did for them and what happened due to the services provided. I think stories could help us better understand what we are doing and maybe help us understand how we can be helpful to our nonprofit or at least the executive.”

And the other board members said: “Yes, that’s a really good idea! We would like to understand better about what our nonprofit is doing for those we care about. And all agreed and said, “Let’s, at every meeting, have a mission moment!”

And so, the direct service staff were invited to begin each board meeting to tell board members a story about someone who was being served and what happened as a result of their services. And board members began to be less bored, interested even.

A few months later, the board member who started the mission moment raised her hand again and when called upon she said, “Since the mission moment has now become a part of our meetings, I am less bored in our meetings. But I need to know more about how we are getting our job done. I never really understand the finances, and I am not certain I know how much we are in compliance with regulators or where we should be taking more or less risks. I just don’t know, but I would welcome knowing. Isn’t there some kind of chart, maybe with pictures and not just numbers, that could help me know more?”

Another board member said: “Yes! That’s what we need.” And a board member volunteered to look up what are ways to receive information, so that everyone could understand and talk about this and have more and deeper and wider discussions and think better about the organization and what it does. 

This volunteer came back to the board at the next meeting and shared what they had found. And what the volunteer learned really excited her and the rest of the board. She learned that back in the day, someone at Harvard said that a “dashboard” could be helpful to boards and staff for increasing knowledge and understanding and make everyone more able to fulfill our fiduciary duties and be strategic.

She also found that fulfilling fiduciary duties and being strategic were at least two of the most important ways board members could contribute to the organization. So, another board member liked what she heard and made a motion to make a dashboard that the board could use at every meeting. Another board member asked to amend the motion to assign a few board with staff to go work on what would be included in the dashboard. And another board member seconded the motion, and everyone said “yes” to make a dashboard!

Six months later the board now has a dashboard that graphically and numerically tells the story about their nonprofit’s work. And board members have clearer understanding and appreciation of what their nonprofit does. Board members are not bored anymore and are more able to understand and fill their duties.

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