5 Tips to Energize Your Nonprofit Board
Your nonprofit board of directors is essential to advancing your mission and goals. They provide oversight, make strategic decisions, ensure accountability, and approve the major initiatives and projects your organization undertakes.
A common stereotype about boards is that they’re disengaged from nonprofit work. While this isn’t always the case, it is easy for boards to lose energy and become apathetic over time. Even if your board members are currently engaged, it’s always a good idea to consider how you can continue to leverage their expertise to help achieve important goals.
Fortunately, there are a number of engagement strategies that not only reduce the chances of board disengagement but also maximize their involvement in your organization. In this guide, we’ll walk through five helpful tips to energize your board:
- Communicate with board members consistently
- Make the most of board meetings
- Provide fundraising training for board members
- Offer multiple engagement opportunities at your nonprofit
- Solicit regular feedback from the board
When you invest in board members, they’ll become a valuable resource to help you fundraise and improve your development strategy Let’s dive in!
1. Communicate with board members consistently
You probably know that communication is key to achieving your goals, and your board is no exception. But it’s easy to fall into the pattern of only communicating with board members when it’s absolutely necessary.
Keeping your board members engaged is best done by establishing a consistent, open communication system with them. You can do this by:
- Sending follow-up messages and updates. After board members approve a project or hold a productive meeting, send them an email thanking them for their time and confirming the next steps. Also, make sure to update them periodically on the status of long-term projects or fundraising initiatives like capital campaigns.
- Showing your appreciation and gratitude. Nonprofit board members will feel more valued if you show them you appreciate their work. Send a personalized thank-you note when board members give, attend events, or otherwise go above and beyond in their service to your nonprofit.
- Organizing social gatherings for the board. Board meetings definitely don’t need to be the only place where members come together. Consider hosting a social during the year so board members can get to know each other in a less formal setting.
Consistent communication with board members helps foster a sense of community, which encourages members to work more effectively with each other and stay engaged over time.
2. Make the most of board meetings
While communication outside of board meetings can help energize members,, it’s only the first step in making board meetings as effective as possible. A board meeting that runs smoothly and addresses important topics will leave members feeling satisfied and motivated, but sitting through one dysfunctional meeting after another can set your board up for disengagement.
To make the most of board meetings, try these tips:
- Send out an agenda and information packet in advance. If board members know what will happen in the meeting, they’ll come ready to work.
- Start and end on time. Nonprofit board members often have busy schedules and will only want to engage if they feel like their time is being spent wisely.
- Focus on strategy and decision-making. Your board won’t appreciate it if you spend a meeting discussing something that could easily have been an email, like general organizational updates. Concentrating on making decisions and taking action will make for a more energetic, productive board meeting.
- Record effective minutes. The board meeting minutes will serve as a reference for future decision-making and for anyone who couldn’t attend. Use the agenda as a reference to record important details like decisions made and actions taken, and leave out any summaries, opinions, or other superfluous information.
As you run each meeting, remember to keep your nonprofit’s mission at the forefront. Your mission is the reason the organization exists and was likely a key factor in board members’ decisions to get involved in this way. Centering your mission in every meeting will remind the board why their work is important, help them make better decisions, and motivate them to take action before, during, and after the meeting.
3. Provide fundraising training for nonprofit board members
Your board’s duties touch all the essential operations at your organization, including fundraising. Many board members don’t have the level of expertise on the subject that nonprofit fundraising professionals do, which can create knowledge gaps between the two groups. However, providing some nonprofit fundraising training for board members can help them understand this key activity and communicate more effectively with the fundraising team.
You can train your board members in fundraising by offering several resources, including:
- Online courses
- Webinars and panels
- Self-guided training resources, like articles to read or podcasts to listen to
In addition to reducing the risk of confusion or conflict, providing fundraising training for your board can help them better understand the organization’s day-to-day work. When they’re aware of the intricacies of fundraising, they’ll make more informed decisions and will likely be more motivated to get involved.
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4. Offer multiple engagement opportunities at your nonprofit
Most nonprofit board members are already regular donors to the organization they serve, which makes them even more valuable on top of the oversight and approval they provide. But your board has much more potential to engage with your nonprofit and further its mission.
To increase board members’ involvement with your organization, offer them a variety of additional engagement opportunities, such as:
- Volunteering. One of the best ways for board members to see how your nonprofit impacts the community is through volunteering. Share several dates and activities that board members could sign up to volunteer, and consider setting up a board-led volunteer day if you think members could use a quick energy boost.
- Attending events. Update your board members on all the events happening at your nonprofit so they can participate in the ones that best fit their interests. For example, a board member who enjoys upscale outings may choose to attend your annual appreciation gala, while an athletic board member might enjoy a 5K.
- Using their specific strengths. Your board members were likely appointed for particular reasons, so ask them to help out with specific projects based on their skills and backgrounds. For instance, you could talk to a member with extensive public speaking experience about speaking at an upcoming event, or you could ask a well-connected member to introduce the organization to a major giving prospect.
Your board members provide a vital internal service to your nonprofit, but they can also make a significant impact externally. If they take advantage of new opportunities, they’ll likely bring more energy to their duties at your organization since they will have seen firsthand how you serve the community.
5. Solicit regular feedback from the board
The best way to show your board that you value them is by asking for their input often. Their unique position within your nonprofit allows them to give useful feedback on what they think is going well and what could be improved.
There are a number of ways that you can collect feedback from your board, including:
- Annual surveys. Send out a survey asking general questions about their satisfaction with board expectations, meetings, and opportunities for involvement.
- Self-assessments. Providing a self-assessment for board members allows them to reflect on their roles and address any issues that might come up.
- Exit interviews. When a board member steps down, their exit interview will be their most honest assessment of their time with your organization. So, you’ll want to leverage this resource to collect insights that will help improve your board members’ roles over time.
- Interviews concerning major campaigns. Averill Fundraising Solutions’ guide to planning and feasibility studies recommends that nonprofits interview current and former board members when planning a capital campaign. Their perspectives on the campaign itself and the project its funding can be highly valuable as your nonprofit decides how to move forward.
When you solicit regular feedback from your board, they’ll bring more energy to their work. Plus, your nonprofit can benefit from their insights.
Board members have three overarching duties to the nonprofits they serve: care, loyalty, and oversight. But they can only perform these duties to their full potential if they’re engaged, energized, and valued. Effective communication, as well as opportunities for training and involvement, will help you prevent a disengaged board.
About the author:
President, Averill Fundraising Solutions
Bob Happy brings nearly 35 years of experience providing expert leadership and direction to clients across the not-for-profit sector to his current role as President of Averill Solutions. Before forming Averill Solutions, Bob served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the nation’s largest fundraising firm. He has mentored hundreds of professional fundraising practitioners and many have joined him at Averill Fundraising Solutions.