Recruiting and Engaging High-Quality Board Members
A successful nonprofit organization has a stellar board of directors. It’s that simple — and that complicated. An effective board embodies credibility and confidence in its institution. It’s one to which leaders aspire to serve; one that knows its strategic role, its fiduciary role and where members leverage their influence to help secure support and engagement — this includes philanthropic support.
Serving as a board member is one of the most challenging and rewarding volunteer experiences, both a genuine honor and a serious commitment that, too often, is underplayed. To truly honor your mission, your board must constantly evolve and improve. With the board being so integral to a nonprofit’s success, it is important that the board constantly evolves and improves. By continually raising the bar in terms of the leaders you want on your board and how the board functions, you enhance fulfillment of your mission.
The first step is an honest analysis of your board development program. This includes examining the following:
- The role and function of your board through the bylaws, job description and other documents.
- Your board composition and any needed enhancements for criteria, including professions, connections and diversity (racial, gender, etc.).
- How meetings are run — when materials are provided both before and after, what is included in the agenda, how meetings are facilitated (ensuring engagement but also respecting members’ time and keeping anyone from dominating or derailing the meeting).
- Keeping in mind prospective and aspirational board members. Engage your top 10 or 20 candidates, so they readily accept when you extend an invitation.
- Developing procedures for identifying and vetting prospective board members. Seek nominations from current and former members, staff leadership, major donors and other key friends. Barring extraordinary circumstances, the CEO should have veto ability for any prospective members.
- Establishing your onboarding program — from orientation and resources (such as a board manual) to how you welcome them (e.g. buddy system, mentoring, specific members reach out and welcome members as they are elected and after they participate in their first meeting).
- Having ongoing education and support. Provide support for the board and especially the officers and chairs, so they can maintain their strategic involvement (e.g. developing committee reports, meeting agendas, officer reports, etc.).
Now, here are some tips for keeping those stellar board members engaged:
- Match members’ skills and interests with your organization’s needs. Carefully assign them to a project or committee of interest to them. Ask for their help as an advisor or to provide special counsel.
- Keep them motivated by giving them a personal connection with your mission. Have them interact with key staff, other board members and those you serve.
- Empower your board to make a difference. Outstanding board members are used to making things happen. Be sure that their involvement is meaningful.
- Make it personal. The CEO, board chair and other leadership should be intentional in connecting with members outside of meetings. Provide opportunities for their families to be involved through special programs and events.
- Connect members with each other and other leaders. Connections are one of the ways you can thank and provide a benefit to your board. A board directory that is regularly updated can facilitate this.
- Communicate with your board regularly through personal updates by phone and email. Your CEO — and ideally the board chair — should meet personally with each board member at least once a year one on one.
- Show appreciation through recognition, thank-you notes and cards on special occasions. Celebrate the board during major events for your institution as well as during National Volunteer Week. Most organizations can find some small perks to provide in appreciation for board service.
- Provide recognition to your board members that will benefit both them and your organization. List the board on your website and in publications. Send news releases about new and reelected members, officers and committee chairs. Recognize them on social media, in internal communications and at board meetings and organization events.
- Help members learn new skills. One may welcome the opportunity to grow their team-building skills, while another may need help in presiding at meetings or making a personal fundraising ask.
- Make it fun! Stellar board members have many opportunities to serve. Be sure that you provide a rewarding board experience and one that is fun. Celebrate often!
- Provide ongoing formal and informal evaluations (e.g. through visits, surveys and focus groups), so members know what’s expected, how they’re doing and how they can improve, and how your organization can better support your board and ensure a rewarding experience.
High-caliber board members are in increasingly high demand. To ensure that the relationship is mutually beneficial, provide a rewarding experience that shows your deep appreciation for members, nurtures their innate talents, opens doors for them both personally and professionally, and gives them a chance to shine.
Editor's Note: This featured article was originally published in the November/December 2020 print edition of NonProfit PRO.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.