What is “new board member fade”?

Have you ever experienced this scenario- you recruit a new board member and are really excited about them and what they will bring to your organization only to have them slowly fade away? They stop engaging at board meetings, they don’t attend events or committee meetings and you are left wondering what went wrong? Creating a high-functioning and engaged board continues to be one of the biggest challenges I hear from nonprofit leaders.

I have often compared the relationship between nonprofit staff and the board to that of dancing partners. When the partners are in sync, they appear to move effortlessly, and it leaves people inspired and in awe. On the other hand, when things are out of sync, toes are getting stepped on, it’s painful to watch, and no one is sure how to get back into the rhythm. So, what can you do to ensure you and your board are in sync and moving together in the right direction?

Here are 5 tips to help you retain and engage your board members:

1. Be transparent when you are recruiting. Sometimes we desperately need new board members and it’s easy to minimize the expectations so that it doesn’t overwhelm someone. This doesn’t set you or the new member up for success. Be honest about responsibilities, skills needed and commitment of board members. Communicate the expectations related to fundraising, attending events, serving on committees- all of it!

2. Host a strong board orientation. Have you ever started a new job and felt lost and overwhelmed because you received no training, mentoring, or support? Unfortunately, sometimes we do this to our board members without even realizing it. Create a strong board orientation that gets your new board members up to speed and helps them feel informed, supported, and comfortable in their role.

3. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings. Get to know your board members and schedule time to connect outside of the board room. Building this rapport creates trust and provides an opportunity for them to share openly about their board experience.

4. Prepare and distribute the board packet 7 days before the board meeting. Respect that board members are volunteers, and their time is valuable by giving them ample time to review the board agenda and supporting documents prior to the board meeting. This will also make meeting dialogue more robust and informed.

5. Acknowledge the work of the board. Be sure you are recognizing the accomplishments of the board. Did you have 100% board giving this year- be sure that is celebrated! Have you had 100% participation/attendance at board meetings- give a shout out and thank board members for their dedication. Acknowledging the work of volunteers is incredibly important and helps create a culture where board members feel valued and respected.

Pro Tip Bonus: If you are a seasoned board member, here are 2 tips you can do to help new board members feel connected.

1. Be a mentor. It can be intimidating to be the new person in the room. Invite the new board member to coffee or give them a call after a board meeting. Create an environment where new members feel connected and a sense of belonging.

2. Speak up at board meetings and encourage others to do the same. Help to create a board culture where everyone’s voice is respected and heard by asking questions and sharing your thoughts.

If you would like to learn more about how to create a high-functioning board, check out my 2-part blog post about recruiting a high-performing board. Or schedule a call with me to discuss your specific challenges – let’s chat!

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