A successful nonprofit needs a successful board and a successful board needs a successful nonprofit. You need to work together to succeed. But sometimes there is a disconnect. It’s possible to feel like your board members are not as fully as engaged as you’d like them to be.
How do you show value to your board, re-engage them, and once again spark the fire that got them involved in your nonprofit in the first place?
What is the ideal board member?
We first have to know what we’re aiming for. The ideal board member will be one that fits best within your organization and its culture. However, two qualities that we think apply to most nonprofits is the desire that their board are...
- Committed to the social change agenda that they’re working toward, and
- Well connected and have access to resources that will help you create positive change.
Unfortunately, it’s not too common to find someone who fulfills both. Often, it’s one or the other. Most board trainings are more focused on fundraising and governance than they are on how the board can work to affect social change through the organizations they serve.
In an ideal world, your board members will be champions of your nonprofits mission. They will have a mind to the future and shape the ways, together, that you can change the world. The good news is that not every board member needs to champion your nonprofit in the same way. A lot can be achieved with good communication, a clear delineation of roles, and encouraging people to lean into their strengths.
It’s nothing without communication.
You can’t show value to your board members if you don’t have an effective line of communication with them. Encourage honest discussion and disagreement. It’s not necessary for everyone to approach solving a problem in the same way, but board members should feel comfortable speaking up. No one should be worried about “maintaining face.” If conflict or tension does arise, address it head on. Don’t allow it to fester.
The potential for conflict can also be minimized through the use of inclusive language and the avoidance of topics related to personal finance. As well, scheduling meetings at a convenient time for everyone and organizing days where everyone does volunteer work together can go a long way to keep board members relaxed and engaged.
It’s also helpful to make sure everyone knows each other — especially if there’s new people on the board. They don’t have to be best friends, but even ten minutes of casual conversation before meetings over some coffee and snacks can make a world of difference.
You can even host annual thank you retreats for your board members where you acknowledge their hard work. This gives you all a chance to relax without focusing on business. Remember board members are people too. They joined your board because they are passionate about the cause that you are all working toward. Every now and again, it’s okay to make sure you’re having a good time while improving the world.
Clearly defining responsibilities
Setting clear roles and expectations of the board and staff can help people understand how everything fits together. It can also help prevent micromanagement and increase trust. There will always be differences of opinion but, at the end of the day, no matter what your role is, you have to be able to manage relationships and have discussions from multiple perspectives.
A clear delineation of roles also help facilitate the conversation when someone isn’t working out. If you’ve been upfront about expectations it’s much easier to discuss what to do when those expectations aren’t being met.
Do you expect a certain amount of money to be raised by board members each year? A certain amount of prep before each meeting?
One way to address this is to have board members sign a pledge that acts as a statement of commitment. This helps set expectations for everybody. A great way to bring this up is as a conversation. Mention that you have a pledge you’d like everyone to sign and you’d like to go over it with everyone to see if it needs to be adjusted or revised. This way it’s a conversation rather than a demand.
Help them help you. Onboard your board.
Set your board up for success. A lot of board training is weighted more toward fundraising and governance than on their roles of affecting social change to the communities and causes their organization serves. When someone joins your board, onboard them. Don’t just throw a welcome packet at them and say, “See you at the next meeting.” Provide them with resources. Empower them. Excite them. Make sure they have access to past minutes and catch them up to speed. It can also be helpful to pair them up with an existing board member who can act as a mentor for a few meetings, someone they can direct questions toward and from whom they can learn how your specific board works and operates.
Make sure your board has the tools they need to succeed
Provide your board with the tools that help them succeed and the stories that will help them fundraise. Make it easy for them. Share case studies, past annual reports, compelling talking points, budget knowledge and fundraising goals, and relevant data. One of the great things about Subscription Philanthropy, and having a stream of monthly recurring revenue, is that it can help you evaluate campaigns and forecast the coming months. This data is incredibly valuable when discussing past and future initiatives with your board. Plus, including them in these discussions will help them feel more involved in the development and implementation of your strategic plan.
Storytelling resources are also incredibly important, especially when it comes to fundraising. This will help them talk about your nonprofit and woo other potential donors. If there’s been a new win since the last board meeting, don't just share the raw data with them, give them the story of it so they can share with their friends and network. You can make this sharing easy by sharing social media templates and other similar resources.
Remind them of their why
Remind them of their why, of what motivated them to get involved in your nonprofit in the first place. Remind them of their power to make change. The decisions they make will help transform lives and the world around them. Emphasize on the mission that you are all working toward.
Empower and steward your board
You steward your donors. You look for every opportunity to delight them. Why not do the same for your board? You’ve already built that healthy line of communication, right?
So, use it.
Check in with your Board of Directors. See how they’re feeling about your nonprofit and their goals both organizationally and personally for your cause. This will help them stay engaged.
Creating a board engagement survey can also be a great way to find out what they think. Keep it short and simple with easy to answer questions.
Questions might include:
- What level of preparation do you do prior to board meetings?
- Do you feel that expectations are clear for what is expected of you as a board member? What are they?
- What would you change about the way board meetings are run?
- Are there any tools that would help you better manage what you need to do?
- Do you feel confident about having an elevator speech for this organization? What is yours? (this is to makes sure people are sharing the same thing)
- In the last year, what was the most exciting thing for you as a board member?
Gather the responses, take them seriously, discuss them, and be open to discovering a fantastic new solution that comes from it. And if someone is on the way out, conduct an exit interview and ask how they think you could improve your board and then implement the feedback.
Make your board feel appreciated. We all work hard. Be gracious to the board when they donate or show up to events. Give praise and encouragement. If you want them to feel like an integral and appreciated member of the team, make sure they know that they are. Give out awards at the galas. Nominate them for awards outside of your organization. This is especially great. Not only does it help show your appreciation, but also it helps raise awareness of your nonprofit. When thinking of how best to thank a board member, remember that everyone is different. In the same way you steward your donors differently, be aware of what your board members like. One might love a social media shout out and another might be absolutely delighted by a handwritten thank you note.
Working together in nonprofit harmony
We hope this helped you give you some ideas for how to work better in collaboration with your board.
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