As nonprofit professionals, we're pulled in a million directions. Not only do we have an organization to maintain with all the typical administrative hurdles it presents, but we also have staff to shepherd, budgets to balance and Boards to babysit. With all of these demands, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. In fact, sometimes it's a major accomplishment just to tread water. Forget about thriving - You're trying not to drown! But what if your biggest life-preserver was right under your nose? And even better, what if it were free?
It's true that few things in life are free. This includes time: time spent by you and time donated by your Board members is a precious commodity. But leveraged the right way, your Board members are the lifeblood of your organization. They are responsible for governance, financial oversight, and fundraising, as well as countless other little details. If you don't ensure that the time served on your Board is rewarding, you won't have the support you need to help you and your organization thrive.
Many Board members donate their time because they admire, appreciate or believe in an organization. But if this investment does not result in a tangible return, you can bet your donated dollar these same people will eventually put their time elsewhere.
"Wait," you might be saying. " We're just a nonprofit. What can we possibly provide in return?"
A large percentage of the phone calls we receive involve Board coaching and development. Many organizations are interested in developing their Board, but have little idea how to go about it. If you want to engage, appreciate what you already have. One of the best ways to appreciate the efforts of your Board members is to create a culture of inspiration.
Nonprofit leaders must lead and inspire their Board, and too many are shirking this important responsibility. They don't make the effort to inspire, they don't share successes or frustrations, and they push Board members out of day-to-day operations. Without enthusiasm, it won't take long for a Board to become disengaged. Why would you want to stay a member of a Board where your contributions don't feel valued?
So, let's learn how to get people fired up, shall we?
1. Share Recent Successes
Why do you think so many people watch the Biggest Loser or Dancing with the Stars? It's because many of us enjoy watching people set and achieve a goal. Success inspires. So, does a little bit of success sharing of your own. Does your organization help people get off drugs? Pay for medical bills? Learn to read? Invite one or two clients served by your organization to share their story during the first fifteen or twenty minutes of your next Board meeting. Seeing tangible success will inspire your Board to want to do even more.
2. Cultivate Meaningful Dialogue
Board members aren't just a once-upon-a-meeting relationship, they are a long-term relationship that needs to be developed and cultivated. It's truly astonishing how much talent is sitting on any given Board of Directors. We tend to focus on the obvious: resources and rolodex, but beyond that there are marketable skills, outstanding personal connections and professional assistance that can all aid the organization. We recently asked a Board member - a doctor - from a major organization if his opinion had been solicited for a recent health fair. Not only had he not been asked for assistance, he hadn't even been asked for input - a truly embarrassing "faux pas" for both sides. If you don't know what your Board has to offer, you could be missing out on some major talent that can drive your organization forward, and at the same time, you might alienate Board members who feel their potential contributions aren't valuable.
3. Share Your Vision
You may feel a little silly, dictatorial or unrealistic when you pitch to your Board your vision for the organization in 5-10 years, but without YOUR vision, the Board may feel a little lost. When people know exactly what type of Kool-aid is being served, they feel much more comfortable asking others to drink it. Make certain your Board knows exactly what your organization stands for and what it hopes to accomplish.
Take the time to:
- Share the mission statement of your organization.
- Share short-term goals and long-term plans.
- Share your vision for the organization and ask Board members to do the same.
4. Admit Your Weaknesses
As professionals, we're always quick to offer our strengths, but when we're asked for our weaknesses, we usually freeze. But admitting your weaknesses and challenges to Board members helps them to both see another side of you, as well as offer help. If you are fantastic at fundraising, but don't know the first thing about HR, don't fake it, admit it to your Board so they can help create positions for staff that can fill in the holes. Boards sometimes expect too much from their Executive Directors, but ED's and staff unknowingly feed into this by refusing to ask for help.
5. Empower Your Board to Make Impactful Decisions
Have you ever heard someone say, "Oh, I don't vote in elections, I know my vote doesn't really count"? If you want action from your Board members, you must must must make them feel like their vote counts.
Empower your Board to do more than approve the minutes: encourage them to propose policy changes, field fundraising proposals, create action steps that can better your organization and then, give them the power to make these suggestions happen. This will provide Board members with a sense of ownership over your organization that will keep them engaged, involved, and consistently working hard to make a difference.