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How to Engage Board Members as Advocates for Your Nonprofit.

Perhaps your nonprofit is just getting off the ground, and you’re excited to start doing some great work. Or maybe you’ve got an organization that has been operating for a while and making big leaps toward making positive social change happen in communities you serve.

But something is not quite right. Something that should be a critical source of support and resources to most nonprofits.  Something that should be providing clarity and direction.

It’s your board of directors. When you constituted your board, you grabbed some great leaders. People from a range of backgrounds, with diverse skill sets, that seemed to understand your vision. The first couple meetings were great, with lots of ideas floating around. But slowly people stopped owning ideas and started making excuses. Now board meetings are pointless and feel like a herd of cats.

Your board has become deflated. How do you bring that energy back?

Well, It’s possible and easy. Since you’ve remained passionate and continued to work hard, it’ll just take getting a few people engaged to bring back the fire.

Your first step would be to change the way you perceive your board members. Viewing board members as advocates for your organization, rather than just volunteers and check-writers, can put a new spark on their role. In so doing, you may want to consider implementing the following changes NOW:

Restructure Your Meetings

Do you provide enough time for feedback from the board? Do they get the opportunity to share not only their input on what you are currently doing, but ideas they had about what the organization could be doing? While board members are often always nonprofit experts, they often see the problem you are working to address in a different way, so ask them about their views. This could be as simple as providing feedback time near the beginning of the meeting, or even as a little break during the middle, as opposed to the end when people are trying to just get out of the meeting. Or providing an opportunity for them to submit ideas in writing, for those that don’t really want to get the group off-track during the meeting. There are plenty of opportunities to make them feel valued for their time and input during your allotted meeting time, without it seeming like pulling teeth. This can lead to new innovative ideas while they are in the moment – and even potential funding opportunities!

Get them Engaged on their Terms

Basically, you want to help them discover their own personal interest in your mission and hold them as your expert on that. Find specifically why they are engaged with your organization in the first place, and play into that part! For example, if you run an urban agriculture program working with youth, you might have a board member who is particularly interested in food access within urban spaces, while another might be looking to support youth initiatives. This may be different from what their day-to-day work consists of, because often, being a board member gives them an opportunity to engage on a different interest they have. You can do this either as a group during bonding activities such as ice-breakers or “20 questions” style games, or during one-on-one conversations with each board member.

Keep a spreadsheet of information on each board member (beyond just contact information and workplace) to remind yourself who is most interested in what component of your mission, and make sure to reach out specifically to them when you need help or advice on the those areas where they have the most interest. This shows you listened to them, and you value their input on how to make that part the best it can possibly be.

Make it About them and their Interest

This sounds counter-intuitive but trust me it works. Board members are humans and not tools. This means they are not exempted from the popular question ” What’s in it for Me”. They are busy people and need to have value for their time investments. Do some team bonding – boards aren’t just about volunteering, they are also about networking. Let’s connect them and help them do that THROUGH their interest in your organization. You’ll help them build their own connections, and also make them feel bonded over within this particular environment. They’ll be more likely to come to events together and enjoy attending meetings if they feel they are getting yet another benefit out of it beyond feeling benevolent.

Give them Little Tasks

Especially for those board members who haven’t stepped up to help just yet – go ahead and assign them something! New board members often don’t know where their boundaries are in terms of what roles they should be taking on and how involved they can get without taking over staff’s work. After discovering what they are most passionate about in your organization, give them a piece they can have ownership over. It is very important to then follow up on those tasks, so they know their time spent working on it was valuable and they are held responsible for their work.

Be Willing to Offer a “Will-Miss-You Handshake”

If there comes a point when you begin to realize that the board member might just not be the right fit of what you need out of your board right now, it is also okay to cut ties. It might feel unnatural to turn away a willing volunteer, but it is important to be really clear and honest with yourself about what you are looking for and what your organization really needs to survive.

This is about something bigger than you, and you need the best people to support you with it. Make sure you let them know that they are valued, and you’d love for them to stay involved, but this just isn’t a great fit. Your board should be important advocates of your organization, and you need to make room for someone who can more clearly take on that role. Odds are, they might be feeling a certain weight that you will relieve them of, and everyone will be better off! So take a deep breath, and have the conversation – it will allow them to realize how important this is to you.

If you have additional ideas, do feel free to drop them on the comments box. Also, do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns you would like us to address in future blogs. We’ll do my best to get you answers you can apply immediately to get the change you want to see.

Alternatively, you can get on a FREE strategy session with us. Let’s fix those wiggling pillars in your board.

To Working Strategies & Authentic Results.

It’s Chinnie & Team

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