How to Engage Your Charter School Board in 3 Easy Steps
Updated: Dec 17, 2019
“I made a suggestion last month and it was shot down.”
“I don’t really know how to help beyond attending the board meetings.”
“I don’t say much at meetings because I don’t really know the other members.”
Charter school leadership is more than being the president of the board or the executive director of the school. Leadership means bringing out the best in all of the members of the team. When you think of your board, do you hear the quotes above? Do you have some active members who seem to carry the load, and others who just show up for the meetings? Do your teachers tell you they don’t know who their board members are? You can make a difference with three easy steps!
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3 simple steps to improve engagement
1. Seek their input and implement some part of their ideas
Let’s say a board member comes to you with a suggestion or an idea. You are sure it will never work, or that last time you tried this it was a disaster…and you tell them so. They walk away feeling like, “Well, I’ll never make a suggestion again if they don’t want to even listen…” You have just lost a potential power player. Instead, find some part of the idea that is worth considering and let them be part of the solution. And then seek their input again another time. With a track record of success (even in small ways), they will learn to trust the team and be willing to offer suggestions again. You never know…their next suggestion could be a million dollar fund-raiser!
2. Ask them to lead a meaningful task
If you know your board members, you probably know some of their skills and talents already. What do they do professionally? What brought them to the board? What are their interests and passions? If they always ask to review the assessment data or the financials, they are detail oriented and probably have some financial training. If they care about the teachers and employment practices like hiring committees or teacher appreciation events, they probably are driven by relationships and have great people skills. If they talk at length about grant writing or policies, they have great writing skills and care about doing things well.
You can deduce their strengths and talents by simple observation. Use this to match them with a meaningful task or committee. They may not volunteer, but invite them to lead a committee or project that seems to be a good match and let them own it. Be sure the committee has a clear charge statement or the project has clear goals and parameters. Then support them with training and resources and let them lead! The best way to create a leader is to find their passion and give them an opportunity to make a difference.
3. Build a personal relationship with them outside of board meetings
Do you come to board meetings early or stay after to chat with the other board members? Have you worked with them on a committee or project outside of the meetings and taken the chance to get to know them personally? Have you called them to check in when they missed a meeting unexpectedly or asked how their child is doing in school?
It is easy to assume that your board members are busy and don’t need to chat, but the single most popular reason people volunteer for nonprofit boards is simply to meet people (followed by working for a cause they care about). Board members who feel connected to the other people on the board are more likely to invest time and resources, share their professional network connections, and actively participate in school leadership.
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Peggy Downs works with school leaders who want to leverage grants to dramatically increase funding, impact, and credibility for their schools. More info and a ton of free resources are waiting for you at:
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