Getting a Quorum at Your Board Meetings
Have you ever served on a committee where barely half of its members show up? I serve on a committee like that and find it very frustrating to only have one or two other people there each month. For governing boards, the problem moves beyond frustration because you cannot conduct official business without a quorum, often defined as 50% plus 1.
What can you do to better motivate committee or board members to show up to meetings? Often the problem lies not with them, but with you and usually falls in one (or more) of the following three areas: wrong people, wrong time or wrong purpose.
Get the Right People (read: Passionate!)
Very busy people tend to volunteer to serve on boards and committees. As such, they come with multiple commitments and priorities. In my experience, people find time for their passion. They use the “I’m too busy” excuse to get out of going to meetings they don’t want to attend in the first place. You can either schedule around or schedule over the other things on your calendar. Have you ever been too busy to pick up your child from school or attend a kindergarten play?
In sixth grade, I belonged to Girl Scouts. Getting tired of Girl Scouts (sorry, Mrs. Schou and Mrs. Best!), I really wanted my 5-year pin so I stayed. When I had to schedule orthodontist appointments, I usually chose the time of my Girl Scout meetings; it gave me the excuse I needed to miss them. To get your quorum, recruit people with a passion for your mission who will schedule around your meetings, not people biding their time to get their 5-year pin who will schedule over them.
Schedule the Right Time
Even passionate people have priorities other than your organization. All the passion in the world will not get someone to a meeting that conflicts with a mandatory staff meeting or picking their child up from school. I teach a class two afternoons a week; all the passion in the world does not trump meeting my teaching obligations. And if your child’s kindergarten play falls the same night as a huge client presentation on the coast, you might have to watch via Skype or video.
Everyone has an opinion on the best time to meet: mornings before people get to work; lunch because you have to eat anyway; evenings so you can leave work early. Truthfully, the best time is what works for your committee members. Ask them! And as life changes – and the committee members change – ask them again. Remember, all the passion in the world cannot change an immovable appointment on someone’s calendar.
Use their Time Wisely
When your committee or board meets, do you use their time productively? Too often board and committee meetings become reporting sessions. I attend one committee meeting where month after month we review the same information; very little changes. While I firmly believe in using face-to-face communication to build social capital (see my blog post on that topic), many meetings simply become reporting sessions that you could accomplished through an email or series of phone calls. Instead, keep the reporting at the meeting to a minimum (by sending reports in advance) and use your time together to discuss the important topics relative to your mission. You invited these people to serve on your committee because of their expertise and passion; use them (the passion and expertise, not the people!).
When you have the right people on your board or committee with a true passion and interest in your organization and your mission, you schedule the meetings at a time when most can attend most of the time (recognizing that life does happen), and you use their time and expertise most productively, you will find that they not only attend, but they participate and move your mission forward. Who knows, you may need to find a larger room and more chairs!