Building a Mission-Driven Board for Your Nonprofit
Your board is at the root of everything you do — they are true leaders and advisors of your organization, mission and values. How do they truly become your best advocates?
Your nonprofit board members can help your organization drive its mission strategically — you want them to love what you’re doing, know how to push your nonprofit forward, and want to keep in touch to help support the cause. Board members may have different ways of supporting: they can offer their time, their skills, or their connections. Each providing value in their own way.
Even if your nonprofit organization already has a board in place, finding the best people to support your organization in each of these different ways involves creating a board culture around community, leadership, and strategy.
Board development never stops. Even when you have met your maximum quota, all of your positions are filled, and all individuals are at the beginning of their service terms, your board should still be developing. If you want to push your nonprofit strategically then think of board selection and process as a strategy itself.
Consistent development will keep your board energized and on track to fulfill goals. Each of your board members should have different interests, skills, time, and connections to give – and it is essential that the Executive Director and your nonprofit’s development and program staff know all of that key information. Information that can be leveraged toward the common good.
Your organization can gather information during informal coffee meetings, group networking events, or even in the form of an annual or quarterly survey that can be collected electronically. Information can be kept in a document or spreadsheet to create a well-rounded profile for each board member to always be able to refer back to.
Once a full profile of each of your board members is made, you can use this information in a variety of ways. Understanding where the gaps are and how to either nurture current board members to fill those gaps or find ways to bring in additional expertise is critical.
If you are looking for new ways to find expertise consider creating internal subcommittees, hosting a board retreat, and/or board leadership events to form a cohesive group that enjoys working together. Board members should feel included in the work of your nonprofit organization, and it is the role of the Executive Director and staff to make sure that each board member is maximized to their fullest potential to become better on-the-ground advocates for your nonprofit's cause.
Diversity and inclusion are key to growth. Your organizations board needs to be diverse. Boards should demographically include individuals that match the demographic makeup of the population they are serving. Many boards go so far as to mirror the demographic makeup of the population and geographic area they are serving for accurate representation.
For example, if an organization is serving a geographic area that, according to the latest census, is 50% women and 50% men, then their board will match to feature half of their members as women and half as men.
But while diversity certainly includes race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, it also includes diversity of thought, background, experience, network, and occupation. Boards need to be diligent to make sure they will not suffer from “group think” due to all members thinking and acting similarly.
Boards that thrive and grow are able to have debates and disagreements about programs, philosophies, and the overall direction of the organization. Diversity of all kinds makes communities stronger and expands the mission of the board to be more inclusive and open.
Goals are the key to building a mission-driven board. To have an engaged, diverse board is one thing, but without any idea of where the board and the organization is going can kill any and all good intentions. Setting the stage with consistent development and overall diversity will allow for goal-setting to be the most effective.
Goals should be set annually and include an exercise during one of the Board of Directors meeting. Depending on the size of the board, it can involve completing the entire exercise during the meeting, or can involve board leadership meeting beforehand to narrow down the goals. Then, these goals can be brought to the full board to be voted on and implemented in the upcoming year.
One easy and consistent goal should always be to ensure that board members know the organization’s mission statement, values, and vision, and can easily engage in an elevator speech if needed. Goals can be adapted throughout the year, but should give clear, concise ideas of what should be completed within a specified time frame.
Invest in your board. Even with term limits, each board member is a critical voice for your organization, both internally to staff and externally to the public. While many board members are often natural leaders, building them to be leaders for your organization can start before they are even voted on.
Being proactive by creating profiles of current board members, finding the gaps, and investing in individuals that meet those gap requirements is essential to maintain a strong and changing board that aligns with the needs and mission of the organization. An easy way to find a pipeline of investing leaders is by creating a “young friends” group for early professionals to start learning more about the mission of your nonprofit by volunteering and advocating early.
Demonstrating that you have an interest in them and what they bring to the organization can ensure that they create a lasting tie to your mission.
Culture of Community and Leadership
Building a mission-drive board is all about creating value to your board members and creating a culture that they want to be part of and continue. Find the best way to engage them, and they will find every reason to support and advocate for you.
Make sure they know you value their time and energy by actively keeping them engaged with new projects, new updates, and continuous praise.
Create a space where they can interact, gain value, and add value to your organization and use this foundation to build board members into your ideal advocates.
Eric Burger is the marketing communications manager for VolunteerHub, an organization that provides volunteer management solutions for nonprofits across the globe. Eric has worked in the B2B software industry for the past two years and has over five years of experience in digital marketing.