3 Tips for Rebuilding Your Board Post-Pandemic
Let’s face it, the last two-plus years have taken a toll on us all. Many of your board members are burnt out. Some may be barely hanging on. Maybe some have stepped down.
So now what do you do? It’s time to rebuild your volunteer leadership team using these three tips.
1. Start With What Matters Most to Your Nonprofit
By now you’ve had a chance to reset priorities for your organization. Who can help lead the way now? What kind of talent and connections and leadership do you need on your board to ensure you achieve these new priorities?
Perhaps you realize more financial acumen would be helpful. Or, maybe you are working on your commitment to diversity and inclusion. Do you need to broaden your mix of age, gender, ethnicity, profession, geographic focus, lived experiences, etc? Do you have enough centers of influence represented on your board so you can advocate well and raise the money you need?
Once you’ve determined what matters most in terms of board composition to support your priorities, then you can figure out where to find these unicorns.
Source widely, be specific and don’t settle. Share your ideal profile with other community leaders. If you need a financial expert, reach out to the CFO Roundtable in town or another trade association. Talk to the local Chamber of Commerce in the areas where you need more leadership.
You will be sorely disappointed if you just make a blanket statement to your board that you’d like them to refer good candidates. Be strategic and very specific. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to build a strong list of candidates.
2. Remember What Board Members Value Most
Once you have the right people on board, you need to take good care of them.
Whenever I work with boards, I ask board members why they joined and why they stay. The top two most common answers are always the same: mission and people.
Mission. They joined because they wanted to make a difference and advance your cause. Be sure to share mission moments, such as individual stories of impact and overall data showing how your work is changing lives. Board members are motivated to stay involved when they see progress.
People. Board members highly value camaraderie and peer relationships, and I’m not sure we fully appreciate that. The pandemic took away some of the options to interact in meaningful ways. So when you provide opportunities for them to get to know each other well, they will value that.
Consider adding a social option before or after your board meetings. Maybe committees could meet at a restaurant or another setting that provides more opportunities to chat. (I know you may be thinking that virtual committee meetings have been working just fine. Sure. And remember what I said about what they value — maybe you can alternate).
Have you ever invited your board members and their significant others to a baseball game? Barbecue? Holiday party? Be creative. Ask them how they would like to build relationships.
In order to work well together, volunteers need to know, like and trust each other. Create opportunities for them to do so.
3. Manage One Board Member at a Time to Engage the Most
How would you like to be treated as just another person in a group? Each one of your board members is different and comes to you with their own connections, talent, lived experiences and interests.
It’s essential that you take an Individualized approach with them. Talk to them about how they can best contribute the first time you speak to them during the recruitment process.
It would be a mistake to assume all board members will participate the same way. For instance, one person may be a huge influencer on social media (don’t forget LinkedIn!) and be able to promote your work that way. Someone else may like to speak to groups and raise money that way. Another member may be an expert at event planning and plug in that way, while someone else could be connected to wealthy donors who will respond to a personal invitation to support your cause.
To inform your future conversations, a group activity you may want to try first is to ask each member to share their “superpower” or talents at a meeting so others learn more about them.
I’m always surprised about what I learn when I do this activity! You may hear things like:
- “I’m very organized and like to manage projects.”
- “I’m a member of an association and can explore partnership opportunities.”
- “I like to do public speaking.”
As you rebuild your board, be crystal clear about who will best advance your cause, connect them to your mission, create social opportunities for them to get to know each other, and be sure to then engage them in ways that are meaningful to them and utilize their strengths.
Even though it feels like we’ve been to hell and back, there are many volunteers ready to work alongside you to provide the services the community so desperately needs. Be bold, make a plan and go forth with grace.
Cindi Phallen works with nonprofit boards and executives to build healthy boards that raise more money and execute on their vision. She is an author, educator, speaker, president of Create Possibility and a former ED. Known for asking the tough questions, she is on a mission to change the mindset of nonprofit leaders, so they move from intention to execution and maximize their impact.
Her popular book, “The Impact Triangle: The 3 Essentials to Accelerate Your Nonprofit Enterprise,” is recommended as mandatory reading for executives and volunteers. Cindi teaches fundraising at the University of San Diego, serves on various boards and is a Viewpoint partner for Social Venture Partners.
Cindi spends her free time jogging on the beach, snowboarding or watching her beloved Philadelphia Eagles!