Get on Board: How to Increase Engagement Now
With Pat Crosscombe & Bonnie Oakes Charron
This is part one of our four-part series From Meet n Greet to Board Seat about engagement, recruitment, onboarding, and orientation of new directors. We’re going to let you in on our weekly coffee talks…. discussions about board management, technology, and good governance – all while sampling the results of Pat’s weekly effort to bake the perfect oatmeal cookies. Pat will voice the condo board perspective, and Bonnie the not-for-profit board perspective, looking for ways to identify the commonalities and unique aspects of both.
In this first blog post, Pat and Bonnie address the issue of engagement. We’ll focus on the top four ways to get owners engaged with condo affairs, and on the not-for-profit side, how to get supporters engaged with the organization and its work.
Bonnie Oakes Charron:
Pat, what are you hearing in the world of condo boards? Is it difficult to get owners to run for the board?
It seems that the biggest obstacle to achieving good governance is owner indifference and lack of participation. In my experience — and from what I’ve heard — most condo owners simply don’t seem to care about their condo. Sure, everyone cares when the fees go up or something goes wrong, but very few people are interested enough to volunteer. How does a condo board recruit new board members – when most condos can barely meet quorum?
What about not-for-profits? Are you hearing or seeing similar things?
Bonnie Oakes Charron:
In my experience, the world of not-for-profits isn’t any different – it can be a real challenge to fill board seats, especially in small, local organizations such as community associations or school councils. There is often a perception that governance is a burden, board meetings are boring, the fun work is in committees, or other unfounded impressions. Not-for-profits are organizations that exist because of their mission – a mission designed to improve people’s lives. Whether they are in the healthcare field, community-based, or exist to serve those in need – they can only make a difference in the world if people are willing to serve on the board. If a not-for-profit organization struggles to find board members, those individuals who say ‘no’ are definitely missing out. Board service offers a chance to engage with others around a shared interest that can benefit the community.
Sounds like both types of boards have their challenges. Let’s look at four tips to generate more interest and motivate potential directors to play a bigger role.
Tip 1 is all about communication.
Pat Crosscombe: Transparency, transparency, transparency
The first step to getting owners engaged is keeping everything open and accessible to them. Positive communication and good records are imperative here. No one wants to get involved if they can’t see how it would help or what they’d be getting into. The best way to get owners involved is to let them see how it all works. Don’t wait to be asked, share everything first!
Bonnie Oakes Charron: Increasing Awareness
For not-for-profits, a good first step is to ensure there is awareness of all the good work it is doing. Use various communication channels. If there is a website, make sure it is up-to-date and looks professional. No one is enthused about giving time to an organization that appears to be stuck in a time-warp. Use social media to engage those who might not go looking for information on a website – a twitter feed can work for those who prefer to keep their news ‘byte-sized’. Some prefer browsing images, so consider an Instagram account, or Facebook page, and post ‘behind-the-scene’ photos of key events and meetings.
Tip 2 is about participation.
Pat Crosscombe: Get owners out to meetings
Sometimes, participation has to start with baby steps. Some condo boards have a terrible time even getting enough people out to their meetings to meet quorum. The first step to engagement is getting owners to attend the meetings. Try getting a speaker or give some other educational and entertaining presentation as a part of the meeting to entice people to attend. Everyone is busy with everything in their lives; if people aren’t showing up, try making it seem more worthwhile.
What do you think Bonnie, would you recommend the same thing for not-for-profits?
Bonnie Oakes Charron: Mobilizing the troops
Absolutely. Whether your organization is member-based, or delivers a product or service, there are likely a few ‘fun’ events throughout the year such as a holiday party or an end of year BBQ. Make sure that there is an opportunity for everyone to participate, meet new people, and enjoy themselves. Invite current members or clients, as well as extending the invitation to the wider community or potential new clientele. Drive enthusiasm to attend with prizes, free entertainment, and of course something to eat and drink. Don’t underestimate the power of a carafe of free hot chocolate alongside a box of donuts – they can even be located strategically on a ‘membership’ or ‘promotional’ table manned by current board members.
What’s next? How about getting them involved?
Tip 3 is all about contribution.
Pat Crosscombe: Provide involvement options
For sure. Not everyone is going to be willing or have the time to commit to becoming a full board member. There are lots of other ways for people to get involved, including joining a committee or becoming an officer.
Committees are a fantastic way to get owners engaged in condo affairs, but with a focus on something that interests them. Some examples could be writing the condo newsletter, maintaining the condo garden, or decorating the common areas for holidays. These are fun ways to participate.
The next step up on the scale of involvement would be joining the board as an officer. Officers are not elected, and they do not vote, but they provide insight and assist with the decision-making process for the board. This is an excellent way to get people who want to be more involved but aren’t willing to commit to a board position just yet. It’s also a fantastic way to add experts to the board, something that helps make the condo board successful.
Bonnie Oakes Charron: Agreed – Ways to Build capacity are very important for a not-for-profit where resources are likely limited.
Stepping into a director role can be intimidating, especially if someone has never served in this type of capacity before. Engage their interest by asking them to join a committee, task force, or special project that suits their personal interests and availability. If they are curious about how things run, or what goes on behind the scenes, assign them to roles where they can manage a team of volunteers, oversee a process, or act as a liaison to the board. This assignment could lead to them developing a comfort level with a full board role.
Once some initial involvement and contribution has happened, the board can express its appreciation.
Tip 4 is all about significance – making the individual feel valued.
Bonnie Oakes Charron: Offer learning opportunities
Sometimes the answer to a lack of engagement can be offering unique opportunities to loyal volunteers or members. People join or support a not-for-profit because they are interested in the great work that it does. What is your organization’s purpose? Why not offer up some related course work or events?
For example, if your organization is a community-based one, or involved in city planning – send one or two people to courses and workshops in urban planning. Here in Ottawa, the municipality offers ‘Planning Primers’ – workshops designed to help the public understand how planning decisions are made. Other possibilities might be conferences, webinars, or a gift of a special book or reference manual that relates to your organization’s mandate.
Does that resonate for you in the condo world Pat?
Pat Crosscombe: Offer a special opportunity in leadership
Definitely. For condo owners, offer them a chance to attend a special conference or external meeting And assign them the job of ‘reporting back’ at an upcoming board meeting or event. This will position them as an ‘expert’ and perhaps allow them to see themselves in a new light – as a leader, and potential board director. The key is to make the individual feel connected and appreciated.
So, let’s wrap up the path from initial engagement to that lasting feeling of association and commitment.
Board work in a condo or not-for-profit setting is a form of community building. Unfortunately, in today’s over-scheduled, hyper-connected and ever-accelerating world, it is just plain hard for people to find the time and the interest to move out of their comfort zones. Keep working at it – investing in the areas we’ve outlined in this post should help.
Although indifference is a definite problem, it doesn’t have to be an insurmountable hurdle. Give people options for different levels of engagement and above all else, keep everything transparent. Focus on whatever stage fits the current needs of the board and progress from there. It’s not going to happen overnight, but by following these four tips, things will improve over time.
Communication, participation, contribution, and significance – together they will strengthen feelings of engagement and you will be well on your way to a strong board recruiting drive this year.
Come back soon for our second post on turning engagement into actual recruitment!