One of the questions I continually get is how do I engage my board? Well the answer to that, my friends, is to begin at the beginning — recruitment.
Why is board recruitment so important…and so challenging? Because the job of building a board is about more than just filling slots.
It is about finding leaders who have skill sets and perspectives that align with your organization’s strategies, goals, and needs — not just now, but into the future. And it’s not just about recruiting one great individual; it’s about having the right blend of skill sets, expertise, community connections, and diverse perspectives and spheres of influence across the board as a whole — which takes some discipline and planning to determine.
It is like creating a winning sports team. You recruit talented players that fit the team and then you can start strategizing about spreading your message through your community.
The board of directors is the single most important element in determining your organization’s success or failure.
A saying in fundraising is that “people give to people.” Therefore, your nonprofit must identify and recruit the right people for maximum effectiveness.
So, when you are recruiting board members make sure you are not using the bubba theory. The selection of board members based on friendship, partnership, relations, or just because they are a “good old boy or good old gal.” This method usually fails to evaluate the future needs of the organization.
Instead, use smart thinking. Take an in-depth look at what the board as a whole needs to round out a well-balanced, highly diverse, dedicated group of individuals.
You define your board needs by using the board matrixto figure out what you have in terms of commitment, level of engagement, fundraising potential, added value, etc. Then look at the board in terms of skills and expertise.
From there you will see your gaps and can focus on what the organization need board members to do andwhat is missing from your board.
Once you have them on your board one of the primary roles of the CEO/ED is to ensure they become engaged as quickly as possible.
First, a board orientation must be held. Your assembled team must have enough information about your organization to speak intelligently about it.
By the conclusion of the orientation, new board members should have a sense of:
- The organization’s mission and programs,
- The organization’s finances,
- The organization’s fundraising initiatives,
- The structure of the board and staff, and
- Their roles and responsibilities as board members.
If you have never conducted an orientation for your organization, it is not a bad idea to have every board member attend. There are some organizations that hold annual orientations for all board members. You decide what will work best for your organization.
Secondly, board members must be given an appropriate role. Find what your board members are good at and keep them involved with their areas of interest. Ensure they are serving on the right committee and they are assigned to the right role in fundraising.
Lastly, a support structure must be in place for board members. That starts with a strong agenda & meeting facilitation. Board Packets should be delivered a minimum of 72 hours in advance. This will allow members sufficient time to read and prepare for the meeting. Adopt a consent agenda so meetings are streamlined, and time is not used to discuss reports in every single detail. Kick- off board meetings with a mission moment to remind board members why the organization exists and incorporate generative questions on your agenda. Generative questions are a way for a board to examine an issue or an idea by generating more information about it: identifying the problem instead of solving it; generating questions instead of answers; and making sense before making any decisions.
Generative questions or thinking sounds scary but it’s not. Here are 5 examples of some sneaky generative questions you can ask.
- List 5 reasons to put our organization in your will.
- List 5 reasons why someone wouldn’t want to be a donor. As a group, brainstorm how to overcome these objections.
- If a donor came to us today with $5 million (you pick the number) what would our first priority be? Our second? Our third?
- If you had unlimited resources, what is the one thing you as a board member would like to do for the population we serve?
- Five years from today, what will this organization’s key constituents consider the most important legacy? of the current board?
You must also have a good communication strategy. Have a board calendar in place so board members can plan appropriately. Facilitate communication between meetings offering your support with setting up committee meetings. Follow up on assignments discussed during board meetings. Review board expectations quarterly. Have a one-stop-shop online command center, like a google drive, critical documents, past meeting minutes, any updates they need for real-time visibility, and a one-pager that has key facts and figures they can use to talk to others about your nonprofit’s mission.
Remember board members are volunteers with full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities they want to be engaged they just need your support to get things done. As a board member once told me, “I serve on several boards and it’s the squeaky wheel that will get my attention.”
Also, make sure the board does annual self — assessments, and if a board member leaves the make sure an exit interview is done. This will provide you information on where things need to be tweaked.
Another way to support and engage the board is to build a relationship with them. Seek out their advice, thank them for investing their time, talent and treasure, and make sure you do a listening tour where you spend one-on-one time with each of them getting feedback and assessing their needs.
Whew, I know this is a lot of information to take in. The expectation is not for you to implement this all at one time. Just pick two things to focus on and once those become standard practice move to the next two things. Incremental change is better than no change at all.
I hope this helps. Comments are welcomed. Sharing is Caring.
A sample board matrix, expectation agreement, self-assessment, board meeting agenda, orientation agenda, and orientation PowerPoint can be found in the VIP Resource Library. You can subscribe to my blog or sign up for the weekly newsletter to get the password to the VIP Resource Library by clicking here.
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