Engaging the Board

By Jeannette Archer Simons, President, Archer-Simons Consulting

One of the challenges that nonprofit leaders and fund development professionals face is how to engage the board in meaningful and productive work on behalf of the organization.  Engaging the board can be achieved in four basic steps.

  1. Ignite the board’s passion for the mission.  Every meeting should have a mission moment where the impact of the organization is shared and the board engages in a short discussion on how they affected that impact.  Make it personal, not just statistics.  Share a client story, which is followed by the need for your services.  Relate the impact to the mission and strategic plan so that the board can learn each meeting what is being accomplished as a result of the work being done by the organization.  If every meeting is focused on policy and finances, boards lose sight of why they are there – their passion for the cause.  Make sure this is celebrated for a few minutes at each meeting – especially in difficult times.
  2. Communicate core messages and give the board a role in spreading the word about the work of the organization.  At each meeting provide board members with talking points about one program or service that is critical to the community.  Ask board members to share what they are doing as a member of the organization’s leadership, when attending community or business events.  If they are able to state they are on your board, and the impact the organization is having in one area, not only does it raise awareness of programs, but it enhances community image.  It is a win for you and the board member!   Give board members a few minutes at meetings to share where they created “buzz marketing” on behalf of the organization.
  3. Provide meaningful opportunities in bite sized pieces for board members to make a difference.  Board members can raise awareness of the work with key business leaders by talking about the organization’s work.  They can review a prospective grant funder list and identify who they may know to open the door for funding.  A board member can call major donors and give them an update on the organizations work.  They can say just say thank you or ask them to renew their gift.  Board members can introduce the CEO to corporations that may be interested in a collaborative project to benefit both organizations.  They can also post a copy of the organization’s wish list on their web page or share a link to the organization on Facebook or Linked In.
    • Small meaningful actions by 20 members of a board can have an impact on community image and funding.  Be specific.  Saying to a board that you need raise awareness is too vague.  Giving them a press release to post or talking points that they can share, provides a specific way they can make a difference.  Short of funding and need $250,000 – well for a board member that is hard to get your arms around.  But asking board members to call five past donors and ask them for a gift of $500 or $1000, is manageable. Make every request a strategic request that is reasonable for one board member and they will come back for more.
  4. Share the impact of their work and recognize their service.  At each board meeting have the board spend five minutes sharing what they did since the last meeting to share the impact message or connect with donors.  Make sure you have at least one board member who is prepared to share at each meeting. It creates a culture of board engagement so that it is expected.  Take time to recognize their work by writing personal notes to say thank you after the board meeting.  Also a small, low cost gift periodically at a board meeting can go a long way.  Fill an organization coffee mug with chocolate, an organization pen, sticky notes or a small note pad and some business cards for the board member to share.  If they use these tools in their office or the community, it helps to keep your mission on the streets and in their hearts.

Engaging the board is a strategy designed to ignite a board’s passion for your organization and their commitment to service.  Every board member should want to share the message about the good work you are doing, not because it is a requirement, but because it means something to them.  Every board member should contribute to the organization, and if they are engaged it should be one of their top three gifts because you are their charity of choice.  Every organizational leader has a role in lighting the fire of board engagement.  Make it your mission to re-ignite that passion in your board and it will be rewarded by their commitment to serve.

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