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How to Engage Board Members

board relations for executive directors relationship building Aug 18, 2022

     How engaged are your board members? According to a Boardable survey, 50 percent of respondents said that they felt more passionate and engaged about the importance of their work on a board or for a nonprofit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While 24 percent of respondents felt about the same level of passion for their role, around 22 percent felt disengaged, distracted, and discouraged about their role.

     Your board members are the community leaders of your agency. You need every one of them to be engaged. Which means working with your board chair to provide a good board experience, onboarding new board members correctly, training them, providing them with meaningful work, and expressing your gratitude for their service.  

The Board Chair Role

     Simply put, the board chair manages the board while you manage the staff. As such, it is the board chair’s role to ensure board member expectations are discussed and agreement is reached. And the board chair is responsible for creating the environment in which board members work. The chair may have help, for example through the executive committee and/or a governance committee. But ultimately it is the board chair who ensures that the work of the board is done.

     And then there is you. Although you will have relationships with every board member, and your development director may too, it is the board chair who you will turn to in matters regarding board member behavior and performance. You and your board chair work in tandem to make sure things runs smoothly.

Onboard Correctly

     If you want a high-functioning board, you need to discuss expectations from the beginning. We talked about recruiting good board members in the last chapter. The next step is to onboard them.

     One of the easiest ways to reinforce board roles is to create a board member binder for each new board member. The binder should include, at a minimum, a:

  • Board list with contact information and terms of service
  • Board member job description
  • Brief definition of governance with agency examples of how governance differs from management
  • The legal and fiduciary responsibilities of board members
  • Previous year’s board minutes
  • Board and board member evaluation forms
  • Current year agency budget
  • Financial statements
  • Their signed commitment to the terms of their board service, including a conflict-of-interest statement

     When you give them their binder, go over it with them. Do not leave it up to them to review the material. You want to give them time to ask you questions and build a relationship with you. You want to engage them even further than they are.

     You also want them to meet one-on-one with the board chair. You want a peer-to-peer, volunteer-to-volunteer exchange. If you and the board president are working as a team, the expectations you outlined will be reinforced during that meeting. Plus, another relationship will start to bud, strengthening the connection between the new board member and your organization.

     Match your board member with a board colleague as a mentor or decide on one before the new member’s first meeting. Broaden the board relationships you create. Use the power of group connection to invest board members in their service.

     As social creatures, people want to feel part of a team. So, get new board members on a committee or project right away. Let them feel a part of things. Help them feel needed and important. Use their talents. Give them opportunities to see how they contribute to the agency’s wellbeing. Motivate them to stay,

     In addition, conduct three-, six-, nine-, and twelve-month check-ins, just to see how things are going. Continue to solidify your relationship with them. You also want to know about and correct any misconceptions that have formed. Your purpose is to reinforce expectations while ensuring a positive, satisfying board experience.

Provide Training

     It is board members who teach the community how to interact with the noinprofit they represent. They set the example. And they need training on how to do that. Don’t set your board members up to feel like failures—help them succeed. Invest in regular, ongoing board training.

Offer Meaningful Work

     One of the best tactics to encourage continued board service is to provide interesting and meaningful work. This means you focus on your nonprofit’s mission and the strategies board members are taking to fulfill and grow it, not the tasks required to execute that strategy. Completing tasks in and of themselves does not lead to feeling a part of a larger purpose. There may or may not be anything exciting about them. Seeing progress toward meeting goals, on the other hand, is motivating. It shows people how what they do fits into the big picture. It gives them a sense of purpose.

     You want to highlight your organization’s impact. Because every step of your agency’s progress in advancing its mission leads to more changed lives. Which gives their board service purpose. You want them excited about what they have accomplished so they will want to continue doing it.

     It is thrilling to see board members doing what they signed up to do—advancing your nonprofit’s mission. And you are making it a rewarding experience they want to keep doing. How great is that?

Express Gratitude

     Thank your board members for their work on the organization’s behalf. It isn’t easy being a board member, especially a chair. They need support and encouragement just as much as you do. Plus, how you treat people is generally how they will treat you. Treat all board members, no matter how much they drive you crazy, with respect, patience, and constant gratitude. A genuine thank you goes a long way to keeping board members on board.

Wrapping It Up

     Are you capitalizing on the energy of the 50 percent of board members who feel more passionate and engaged about the importance of their work on a board as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? Or do you have board members who feel disengaged, distracted, and discouraged about their role?

     As the leaders of your nonprofit, you need every one board members engaged. Onboard new board members correctly, offer them training opportunities, provide meaningful experiences, and constantly authentically thank board members for their service and see what happens. 

Next Steps

     Learn more about board relations, especially in regard to fundraising, in my new book The ROI Mindset: How to Raise More Money with the Budget You Have. Get your copy today!

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