The board of your nonprofit organization serves an important function: it determines the mission and vision of the organization, oversees the financial operations, including budget setting, and supports the organization by not only with donations of its own but by serving as the chief cheerleader and promoter in the community at large. Sounds like a lot of work, right? It certainly can be, but the good news is that your Board of Trustees is likely extraordinarily motivated. How do you know this? They’ve already self-identified as interested in the organization simply by agreeing to be on the board!
Set Expectations for Board Members
The key differences between a good, supportive board and an actively engaged board lie in the expectations and tasks that you, the nonprofit staff, set for them. You can dramatically improve board engagement and effectiveness by undertaking, in conjunction with your Board Chair, the organization’s CEO, and the Advancement director, short but candid conversations about expectations and some specific tasks that the board can help with.
Motivated board members are excellent board members, and to keep them motivated, it helps to have expressly shared with them what you hope their roles can be. First, as they join the board, sit down individually to review the board’s culture of giving – if this is about more than writing a check, now is the time to say so! Do you hope they will host one or two events on behalf of the organization this year? Tell them! Is it expected that they will buy a table at the annual gala? Show them last year’s program and explain what that event does and how their support matters. Do you expect them to make calls, write notes, or go on visits with the nonprofit executive staff? Talk about it!
Have Clear Goals & Roles for Each Member
Some organizations have developed a board “scorecard” or “tracking” document mutually agreed upon by the trustee and the organization. It helps formalize the kinds of help you hope to receive from the Board member and clarifies expectations for all parties involved. Whether or not you decide to formalize a board member’s engagement with a scorecard, the only mistake you can make is to remain quiet and then grow frustrated that your board doesn’t help. They have volunteered their time to be of service, so let them serve!
One easy way to help them be of service is to have a short “training session” about the mission, vision, and key aspects of the kinds of activities they can assist with. Via a zoom call or in person, use brainstorming sessions to craft individual elevator pitches or draft volunteers to role-play a prospect introduction or visit. Or, share these informational activities via email in short “training videos” (5 min or less!). Board members who can spread awareness of your nonprofit and represent its goals and values in articulate, compelling ways are great advertisers for you. They serve as new, and often unexpected, voices of support who can increase fundraising simply by sharing the message that your organization is worthy of support!
Drive Home Your Nonprofit’s Mission With the Board
Nonprofits often make the mistake of not engaging with the board on small tasks to promote the mission beyond the boardroom. This is a mistake: the board joined to support and serve. When the nonprofit administration respectfully partners with its board to do outreach to the community (and beyond), there are few obstacles to reaching loyal supporters with new messages or engaging new prospects who are excited by the messages they hear from new voices.
Published: February 3, 2022
Alyson Landers has held many positions around the nonprofit boardroom table and enjoys work that allows her to synthesize best practices into components customized for a particular organization. She’s been a board member and a nonprofit executive. She believes engaging and challenging board members to serve the organization with specific tasks and goals is underrated and underutilized by nonprofits. You can connect with Alyson on LinkedIn.