Top 7 Lessons on Board Engagement

As long as I have worked for nonprofits I have volunteered as a board member.  I’ve sat on a variety of boards and had very different experiences.  I can be a highly engaged board member hitting up friends and strangers, volunteering around the clock and donating as generously as I can.  I can also barely come to board meetings.

In working with nonprofit clients I see this same pattern over and over.  Richmond is a small town, I might work with the same board member across three different organizations.  On one board she is super enthusiastic, another she doesn’t even return emails.  So if it isn’t about the board member, what is it?

Turns out it is all about engagement.  So how do you successfully engage board members without spending day in and day out cultivating them?  Here is a simple list of  seven things you must do.

1.  Tell the truth.  This is perhaps the most important thing you can do.  When soliciting them for your board be honest about what you need from them and what  you have them slated to work on.  If this is a working board where everyone is expected to devote 5+ hours a week, your prospect needs to know this.

2. Once I say yes, spend the time to complete a board orientation.  Give me a board book, teach me about the organization. Give me enough information to fall in lve with your cause and talk to others about it.  This can be formal or informal done as a group or as a one on one meeting.  The key is that this should happen before my first board meeting.  And, giving me a 100 page board book doesn’t count.

3. Have me sign a contract. Yes, I know the word contract is a scary word but seriously outline my responsibilities, my time commitment and any financial guidelines in place.  Have me sign it, in person, in ink.  It makes my relationship to your nonprofit feel real and it outlines very clearly your expectations of our relationship.

4. Tell me stories.  I am your most important donor, no matter how much I give.  I have the power to give you my money, my time, my address book, and leverage my friends and colleagues.  Give me stories that will make me cry and stories that I can share in the elevator and over drinks at a party.  One story doesn’t count.  I need a new story every few weeks.

5. Make good use of my time.  Craft clear and tight agendas for board meetings and committee meetings.  Send me information ahead of time.  Remind me gently and often.

6. Expect me to work.  This is a big one.  You must have clear expectations of me.  I overheard a board member say once, “This is my favorite board.  I come once a quarter hear some information and leave.”  This is an example of something you do not want to overhear.    Even if I have significant wealth, you still need to expect me to work and volunteer my time.

7. Say please and thank you. Just like your parents taught you.  In writing, publically, privately, by phone. Just do it. 
So much of our nonprofit work at Floricane centers around helping nonprofits be more efficient and effective and develop bold visions and plans for their future.  At the center of all it is a productive and highly engaged board.  The best strategic plan will not succeed without the support of your board. Spend the time to engage board members and you will be rewarded.