Board Error #5: Are You Connected?

Ignore this connection imperative at your peril: red flag of doom #5! Sometimes board and staff leaders forget that the organization was formed by members to benefit members. Success will be judged on how well the staff and the board represent those members and their interests. Success will be out of reach if the elected and paid leaders do not understand the needs and expectations of the membership, address those needs and expectations directly, be supportive of the membership, and involve the membership in the determination of the mission, goals, and objectives of the organization on an on-going basis. Do not assume that everyone understands the relevancy and importance of any organizational decision or resource allocation. Very little organizational work is self-evidently valuable to all stakeholders. Take the time and learn the skills required to constantly communicate and build team support throughout the membership and the wider stakeholder community.

Members and other stakeholders including staff must feel that they are an integral part of the organization, not peripheral. Strategies that have been successful in accomplishing that degree of involvement include:

1. Get personal. The organization may seem distant and impersonal to many members and the decisions of the board far removed from their day-to-day work life. To make the organization seem less remote it is essential to establish open, ongoing, and frequent communication with members in their workplaces. Some CEOs regularly attend meetings of local chapters or branches to improve communication and to enhance the liaison between the members, the staff, and the board of directors. Others organize their elected leadership to do these face-to-face visits with members' groups at least annually across the full geographic membership area. Make the connection between the organization's leadership and the membership personal.

2. Choose the right people. The organization should seek out members with a positive outlook when recruiting members to be involved in work groups or teams. Emphasize the importance of the work and why you want them to do it. Anticipation of and satisfaction in making a positive contribution is a major factor in motivating people. As well, it is important for the organization to make sure that all members are aware of the opportunities to participate in organization activities. The organization should regularly extend broad invitations to members to express their interests in particular areas so that member interest can be matched with organization need and the best participants selected. The annual face-to-face encounters with members in their workplaces are a good place for this data gathering.

3. Help them be their best. Encourage and support membership teams with their assigned tasks and give credit and recognition for team milestones and accomplishments. Members who give their time and energy need to know that they have made a valuable contribution to the organization. Appreciation and recognition are excellent motivators and need not be costly.

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