Board Engagement during COVID-19: beyond Accountability and Oversight

In an earlier post, I addressed the primary functions of governing that are more important than ever in these unprecedented times: accountability and fiduciary oversight. This post suggests some other functions board members can play, either individually or collectively.

Thinking Partner: Since no one alive has faced anything like this global pandemic, we are all searching for answers. Keep in mind the quote “No one of us is as smart as all of us.” Take time to engage in group problem solving, brainstorming solutions, identifying unmet needs, or dreaming of possible responses. Ask questions like “what can we learn from past situations we’ve overcome?” and “what are other organizations doing that we might adapt to our operations, fundraising, etc.?”

I know from personal experience that leadership in times of crisis can feel lonely, and you might find it hard to shut off the stream of thoughts. Break that cycle and turn to the board to share the burden of worry! Draw on the board’s brain power, professional or personal connections, individual expertise and life experiences to inform your thinking and extend your network of support and information. Bounce ideas off them and think out loud if that’s helpful. Keep in mind such discussions are not usually going to result in a concrete “board directive” or motion that leads to a vote; instead, I’m suggesting advisory input and feedback to inform strategy formation and management action.

Individual Support to Management and Mission Delivery: You might be able to help outside the board meeting “room” (virtual for the foreseeable future — keep that physical distance!). Some people have time on their hands and want to help; perhaps some of your organization’s board members fit that category. Maybe they can do some research on funding opportunities, or help communicate with donors or program volunteers. Perhaps a financially savvy board member is willing to join a conversation with your community bank about loan options. Maybe you can make masks to reduce the spread of infection, or make care kits for clients sheltering at home (with safe practices in place, of course!). Brainstorm and invent creative, safe approaches to serving clients and the community.

Encouragement and Recognition: Lastly, board members can provide some needed cheerleading in these difficult times. Executive Directors, especially, tend to neglect their own self-care while nurturing others. Ask leaders about their own emotional reactions and household situation, and encourage them to practice good self-care. Inquire about what keeps them up at night and really listen — you don’t need to solve all the problems in that moment, just show empathy and share the burden. Suggest leaders “unplug” from work, which is especially important in high-stress times when many have brought the office home. And help out with recognition of staff, volunteers, supporters and others — sometimes a thank you note from a board member is as good as gold!

For more about Montana nonprofits and COVID-19, visit Montana Nonprofit Association’s resource page.

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