Tools to Create Good Board Member Relations

In your experience, how have you had success in fostering a good relationship with your board members, especially your board chair?

Jenny MacMurdo
Carmel (CA) Chamber

I believe my success in forming good relationships with my board members has been meeting them where they are. There is always one quality within each board member that represents their unique talents—not one-armed cartwheel or amazing air guitar talents, but talents that can be mined as assets for the organization.

For instance, my first board chair was the general manager of a hotel and incredibly active in the community. Born, raised, raising her own, and constantly giving back. AND, in her spare time, she was a champion female bodybuilder! She was clearly someone who thrived on order and self-discipline, so that’s how I approached our relationship. Quite simply, I scheduled a regular time for us to talk each week, and by doing so, I met her where she was.

Scott Raty
Pleasanton (CA) Chamber

Here are a few “best practices” I consciously make an effort with on a regular basis to help me establish and maintain great working relationships with volunteer leaders.

• Say “thank you” on a regular basis.

• speak of “my” chamber or “my” board. Instead choose words like “our” chamber or “the” board.

• a listener first.

• visit each director on his/her turf. Learn about their work-world, business priorities, challenges, etc., and make a point of referring prospective business, help solve a problem, or provide resources.

• to each volunteer leader’s strengths. Like coaches and players in baseball, don’t ask pitchers to catch, or catchers to pitch.

Julie Snyder
Kyle Area (TX) Chamber & Visitor’s Bureau

When asked to write about fostering a good relationship with board members, there were several aspects that I thought about based on my experiences and relationship with past and current board members. However, we often find that we “think” we know what it takes, and later realize we asked the wrong person.

Therefore, I reached out to five past chairs of the Kyle Chamber Board. I’m happy to report they all responded with the following list of traits they feel are important when fostering a strong, trusting relationship with the chamber’s CEO:

• (mentioned several times)

• (excellent/strong communicator) No surprises—keeping the board in the “loop”

• honesty, fearlessness (not afraid to do the dirty work), not trying to make up answers or excuses—builds trust, not blaming others or the prior leader, acknowledges issue and presents a plan to fix it

• and diplomacy

• on the goals of the chamber, ensures members are comfortable with the direction—even in time of disagreement, a well thought out plan and strategy—resulting in a productive and efficient relationship, and leads with head and heart.

Having board members remind me of these traits was a very helpful and eye-opening exercise; while there were some common traits, it was clear that each member listed them and explained them differently, identifying that every board member and chair is different and it’s important to get to know their communication style and their needs to help them be a successful director.

Nick Williams
Salem Area (OR) Chamber

There aren’t any shortcuts to solid relationships with board members, particularly our president. Trust is earned and developed in transparency and time spent together. I meet with our president and president-elect for lunch once weekly, and we talk over the phone multiple times per week. As a result, our relationship is strong and we cast our organizational and community vision in unison.

Lora Butterfield
Fife Milton Edgewood (WA) Chamber

Relationship building with my board members begins long before he or she enters the board room. It begins the moment they join the chamber and continues with every event, committee meeting or interaction we have together.

Having a great relationship with my members usually translates into a great relationship with my board members. Our board chair serves on the Executive Committee for two years before they become chair, which gives them plenty of time to become familiar with the inner workings and critical issues of the chamber and time for us to develop trust between one another.