Emily Runyon

Nonprofit life plan communities are incredibly focused on their mission and values. These qualities generally start with their board of directors in collaboration with senior leadership. However, the board isn’t at the community every day, working directly with those involved in carrying out the mission. The vision they so eloquently craft during their quarterly meetings may not meet the everyday needs of associates and residents. Getting your board of directors actively engaged in your community can create positive changes that can have a ripple effect throughout the entire organization. But how do you go about it?

We asked the leadership team at Saint John’s On The Lake, Milwaukee’s premier retirement community, how they engage their board of directors, which includes community and faith-based leaders that share a unified vision. Renee E. Anderson, president and CEO, offers some great suggestions!

Says Anderson, “Outside of the seven board of directors meetings per year, board members serve on one committee, which typically includes both leadership and residents. Board members are frequently seen enjoying life on campus — attending lectures, concerts, dining, using the gym and the pool or visiting family, friends or parishioners.”

Anderson’s statement provides some clear insights into how Saint John’s board is more than just a steering committee. Ensuring that your board feels comfortable visiting your community and utilizing its resources alongside residents and associates can have a significant effect. By being actively involved, they become visible members of the greater community, creating personal relationships with those they serve. Naturally, this will lead them to think about the impact their decisions have on those living there day to day.

Also, it should be noted that using board members on committees is critical. Where possible, these committee assignments should be directly related to a director’s personal and professional talents. It makes sense to have accountants on the finance committee and skilled trades professionals working with the facilities team, but don’t pigeonhole your directors so quickly! Give them an opportunity to express interests in the committee work to which they’d like to be assigned. If someone is crunching numbers all day professionally, he or she might be eager to serve on the resident relations committee, as it provides a new and interesting challenge that he or she might not otherwise face.

Keeping the board engaged as business leaders is also important. Luci Klebar, director of sales for Saint John’s On The Lake, provides some insight into how leadership stays apprised of the issues that impact operations.

She says, “The Board meets quarterly and receives a financial update and leadership update. Additionally, a dashboard that identifies KPI on which the organization is working overall is provided. If there are variances to goal, brief reports are provided.”

Klebar highlights another tactic for an engaged board — consistency. By providing a standardized report that includes performance indicators and goals, directors stay focused on the most important items and are able to compare apples to apples between meetings. Optimizing communications in this way will also make for more efficient and productive meetings.

Every board of directors is different, and what engages one board might not be suitable for another. Knowing what individual passions have brought your board members to the team will provide you with critical insights into how they can become an integral part of the organization’s leadership. New board members look to those already serving, including senior management, to find their role. In short, give them something to do that they both enjoy and find meaning in, and your board will be better for it!