My Board Won’t Listen to Me

Board Won't ListenYou keep saying the same things over and over. It’s like talking to a brick wall.

They suggest ideas you’ve tried five times before they joined the board. Ideas like “great” special events that are neither great nor special – events that will eat valuable staff time and, if you’re lucky, will bring you $.70 on the dollar.

You tell them cash flow is shaky, or worse, but it seems to go in one ear and out the other.

You remind them that they need to raise money by introducing you to prospects and you realize they are just staring at their phones.

You know board support is absolutely critical. You know exactly what you need from them. But your board won’t listen.

How do you get your board to listen?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

A subscriber from the Czech Republic recently shared a board challenge she was facing.

“How do I make them (board) listen to me? Do I speak wrong (not the language wise :-))? Have I lost perspective? Am I burned down at this job?:)” 

“Burned down” – that may feel more like it than “burned out” for some of you.

But a great question. And clearly a global concern. It’s not just you.

How do you make your board listen to you?

But that’s the thing. You can’t make them listen. But you can focus on how you can be heard.

FIVE KEYS TO BEING HEARD BY YOUR BOARD

This advice assumes that you have a reasonably strong board. If you’re not sure how strong your board really is, download my free board assessment tool. You might be surprised by the results.

So let’s assume you have a decent board. Now what?

1) Don’t talk AT your board. Board members join boards not simply to raise money but because they want to contribute. They want to have a voice. If all you do is talk AT your board, they will absolutely stop listening. So if you want the board to listen, ask questions.

2) Remind yourself that they are volunteers. They don’t eat, sleep and breathe the work of the organization. That’s why they pay you the big bucks. Sometimes you are a one-person show or have a very small staff and you are desperate for more help. You have to manage your expectations regarding the kind of help a board can provide. Also, because they are volunteers, the organization is not at the top of their list and so they can forget things. You might have to repeat yourself to be heard. Remind yourself that this is normal and stop yourself from getting overly frustrated.

3) Take extra time to talk about the work and why it is important. I was on a board for several years. I never read the minutes either. I guess I figured someone else would or that the secretary seemed capable enough. I didn’t care that much. I did care about our plaintiffs and I did care about the staff that did the work and I wanted to know as much as I could about the work of the organization. Sometimes when you have tickets to sell, money to raise, or budgets to approve, you forget that an educated board is an engaged board and an engaged board LISTENS!

4) Build allies to be able to say no. Does this sound heretical? An E.D. saying no to a board member? Think again. As the E.D., YOU run the organization and the board evaluates you. If a board member suggests that you make a decision you believe makes no sense or takes the organization off course (because they are not listening to you), maybe you need the support of additional messengers. Rope the board chair or other board allies in to help support your case.

5) Some board members won’t listen. No matter what. Your public speaking skills could rival those of Barack Obama and it just won’t matter. It is likely that they joined the board for the wrong reasons, or were unclear about the commitment and the expectations. They need to go. Work with your strongest board ally to begin to minimize the level of influence that board member has. Often, board members like this resign on their own. Especially if expectations are made clear and/or increased.

So to sum up for my subscriber in the Czech Republic, you’re not “speaking wrong.” Some board members are just hopeless. For others, it’s worth putting yourself in their volunteer shoes, remember their need to be engaged in the work, their need to be inspired. And try to manage your expectations.

This subscriber’s email had only one phrase in capital letters: “I LOVE MY JOB!” I loved that. So I hope this advice helps her and the rest of you to look at the problem in a different way.

We need you to keep loving your jobs. We can ill afford for you to ‘burn down.’

NEXT: How to Create a First Rate Board of Directors

Joan Garry
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Joan Garry

Widely known as the "Dear Abby" of nonprofit leadership, Joan works with board and staff as a strategic advisor, crisis manager, change agent and strategic planner. Joan also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on nonprofit communications and leadership.
Joan Garry
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