A Simple, Powerful Tool For Maintaining Board Engagement

Boards. They are top of mind for folks right now. Always, but in the past 2 months, even more. There’s something in the air. 

How to structure my board. Who should be on my board. What does a good board do and look like? 

I’ve covered some of these topics on this podcast before. 

I’ve pulled together this little crash course on boards and you can find it at richiebabbage.com/boards 

There are key themes – board membership, board structure, board roles, and board engagement. I want to talk about the last one today — board engagement. 

Specifically, about a specific tool that I’ve found to be really powerful in helping keep boards engaged. 

A Board update dashboard.

I love a good dashboard, and this is one of the highest-leverage ones you can have for your organization. They are easy to create and share, and they do four powerful things: 

They are a quick and easy way to: 

  • Provide information to your board members that they are interested in receiving, 
  • Inspire and maintain a connection to your mission,
  • Educate about your issue and mission, especially for those board members who may not be issue experts, and 
  • Make board members feel like they are organization insiders – that they are knowledgeable enough about the organization to talk about its mission and work comfortably and confidently.

The core purpose of a board update is to share information with the board that they both need and want to know – financials, thought leadership, staffing, impact – and to do it in a way that they will actually take it in. 

It is a visual representation of meaningful information about the organization and its work in a format that is easy to digest – brief and high-level.  

When done well, these dashboards even completely transform meetings. Way too often board meeting time is taken up by reports – from the ED from the team. In-person reports are typically a terrible and inefficient way to spend meeting time. They render board members passive, and they are essentially like bringing people into a room to have them listen to someone read something they could have read on their own time. 

But we do it this way in response to a real challenge – how can you make sure board members have the information they need to govern effectively, to be thought partners to the ED, to be out in the world as knowledgeable cheerleaders, and to actually keep caring and feeling connected. If you send long reports and they don’t read them, it’s tough to work together and keep moving the work of the board forward.  

Board updates address a lot of this! 

I was frustrated with my board because I’d show up at meetings and they had no questions… they’d ask things I’ reported about… I was sending update emails about exciting tings an they weren’t reading them. 

So I asked them — what do you want to hear about? I shared my frustration – and my concern that they weren’t getting the info they needed to feel really connected, and to actually work with me and my team.  We had a great conversation and they identified 5 things: 

  • Financials 
  • Us out in the world 
  • Staff and operations 
  • Program impact 
  • Articles 

So every month, I’d have my leadership team pull together the top-level info in each category, and I’d plug it into my dashboard template, and it worked. 

It transformed my board and my relationship with them. I’d get responses to the dashboard, they’d show up at meetings with questions, and talking about what I’d shared. They were sharing data with their friends – I could stop guessing about what to give them as talking points because they were extracting what was interesting to each of them… 

So how do these work: 

Create a template – a format that is visual, simple, and that won’t change and you want to include no more than 5 topics; More than 5 can make the update feel clutters and defeat its primary purpose. 

I have included a model dashboard, and a toolkit on how to lead a discussion with your board about this, how to set one up and how to use these dashboards as part of an engagement calendar, inside my High Impact Board Bundle at richiebabbage.com/boardbundle

These are sent via email every month or every other month. Don’t worry about including a massive email with the update. The dashboard should stand on its own. Including a lot of text can undermine its power. Instead, simply invite board members to reach out with responses or insights.   

To identify the topics for the board updates, include a discussion in one of your board meetings. Get their feedback on the subjects that will make them feel most plugged into the mission and work, what they understand the least, and what is most exciting to them. 

I’ve found the following topics to be popular with the boards that have set something like this up: 

  • Money In/ Money Out 
  • Types and sources of funding 
  • Program impact – Exciting Outputs and Outcomes
  • New Program Directions
  • Presentations and Speaking Engagements
  • Publications  
  • Also consider things like Board Updates and updates on the strategic plan. 

Also consider including: 

  • A few articles or media (podcasts, etc.) that illuminate your issue in ways that help board members understand it’s importance in the world
  • A brief State of the Organization note from you (the ED) offering your intimate perspective on where the organization stands.  

Again, I’ve broken this down inside the high-impact board bundle at richiebabbage.com/boardbundle.

So that’s it for this week – short and sweet. I’ll see you next week for more mastermind 🙂

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