Chances are, your board is looking for details that help them feel they've done right by the organization. They want to help you do your job well, but they may not really understand how to do that without crossing the line between governance and management.
And let's face it: Board meetings can be, well... boring. Many board members don't communicate. Those who do often want data, information, and detail that you must scramble to provide. You talk and they listen. You might even feel interrogated. You leave feeling relieved it's over, and not always with the answers or support you needed going in.
Here are three tips to help reinvigorate your board meetings, in order to build a more collaborative, supportive relationship.
1. Send the data, share the love. Send the spreadsheets in advance (with notes and comments, if needed), but begin your presentation at the board meeting with something human. Share a letter or drawing from a kid in one of the programs whose budget you want to expand. Begin your PowerPoint with photos of people doing work in the field that the budget funded. Make a video with a staff person talking about their work and thanking the board. (Tip: It doesn't have to be a fancy video, either; you can use your phone's camera if you need to.) Connecting to the board's emotions will help them understand the human implications of the numbers and remind them why it all matters.
2. Show and tell. Devote ten minutes in each board meeting--perhaps over lunch--to something that will help board members feel more connected to your work. Take them on a tour of a new department, walking or through slides. Ask a new employee to come and share their observations. Visit the websites of two or three peer organizations and talk about how your work relates to theirs.
Board members are rarely close to the work itself--which is a good thing, if you ask me--but that distance can also lead to disconnects when they make recommendations or share ideas. Bridge the divide by sharing pieces that help them feel like part of your world without inviting them to pull up a chair at your desk.
3. Tell them what you want from them. Before each segment of the meeting, tell the board what you want from them. Want them to vote to approve your new name, logo, or next year's budget? Say that upfront. Sharing information for their reference only? Let them know that, too. Most board members want to help and assume, sometimes incorrectly, that asking a lot of questions or making suggestions is useful.
What have you tried that's worked? Share your tips in the comments!