Are Your Board Members Bored? How to Inspire, Excite and Direct Your Board to Success
My goodness, I’ve been to so many major gift meetings with nonprofits lately that tell me their board meetings are a complete drag. “It’s like we’re all just going through the motions, and no one really wants to be there,” one development professional told me. “Why are we even meeting? Nothing seems to get done anyway … we’re languishing.”
Any of this sound familiar to you?
I hope not, but I’m afraid it’s pervasive in the nonprofit community. In the best of worlds, your board members are your biggest advocates, strongest financial supporters and connectors to others. There is almost nothing more amazing than seeing a board that is on fire! But it’s deadly if your board is … well … bored.
If your board needs a spark, a stoking of the embers to get the fire roaring again, I have some ideas for you. They come under the headings of inspiring, exciting and directing your board. If you can do these three things with your board of directors, good things will come to your major gift program and organization.
When in “recruiting mode” for board members, many nonprofits do a really nice job of inspiring potential board members with their mission. They tell great stories; they give the board members tours; they let recruits see firsthand how the organization is making a difference.
However, when the board member signs on, something changes. No one hears stories of lives or situations changing anymore. Instead of seeing the good work of the organization firsthand, now all of a sudden board members are buried in financial spreadsheets and by-laws.
Yuck! Get me out of there.
Those things are important, but have you considered adding this into the agenda to keep the fire burning?:
- Start each board meeting with a heart-touching video or story that could only happen because of your organization.
- Bring in people who have been affected by your organization to tell their stories firsthand. There will not be a dry eye around that large boardroom table. For example, if your organization works with young children, bring someone in who has “graduated” from your organization and is now leading a productive life. No one in that room will leave unaffected.
- Bring a program person in to tell board members what it’s like on the frontlines and have that program person tell the board why they are so desperately needed.
- Bring in the development director to tell a great story of a donor—how the donor’s life has been changed through their giving. This will lead to so many great questions from board members.
OK, you got the idea of inspiration. Let’s turn to:
I’ve been on a number of boards, and there is nothing worse than sitting through two or three hours of minutiae that doesn’t have to be done with 15 to 20 people sitting around a table. All of the boring stuff should be done beforehand. Make committees for these issues, and bring the highlights to the board meetings. Committee chairs make the case and the whole board votes. Done. Next subject …
I really think the goal of the executive director and the board chair is to figure out, before the board meeting, how they can make that board meeting as exciting as possible. Why? Because everyone else’s board meetings are awful, and if you’re meeting rocks, you’ll have no problem recruiting good board members. Here is what it’s going to take:
- Do all the work in committees—this is where everything should be happening. And the committees can be both functional (finance, development, HR, etc.) and project driven (Where do we build the next shelter? How can we expand the school? How do we partner with more countries in building water wells?). All of those “projects” can be committees that have a short life span. Then, you’re done and you go onto something else.
- Keep the actual board meeting to one hour—you heard me. If you’ve ever been a board member yourself, how often have you dreaded going because you know it’s going to go on forever and be a total snooze fest? Exactly. If you have everyone doing the work in the committee and you’ve passed all the information board members need prior to the meeting, this should be doable.
- Make sure you have term limits—oh my goodness, how many boards do you know with members with 10, 15 and even 20 years of service? Let God bless them … then bless them right out. Seriously, this is why term limits are so important. If you have an exciting board, people will want to be on it anyway. Keep it fresh.
Do you understand what I mean about exciting? Good. Finally, let’s turn to being directive.
One problem I see with nonprofit leadership is that they think the board should be “just doing stuff” for you. Then, everyone gets uptight because no one is doing stuff. The nonprofit staff is frustrated and the board members are either lost or angry because they are not sure what their role really is.
I was talking to one organization a few months ago about a major gift development committee meeting, and they said everyone just sat around talking about the last football game because no one had anything to report on. Eventually after about 45 minutes, committee members started packing up and said, “see you next month.”
Next month? What are people even working on? No one knew and no one gave direction.
To all you nonprofit leaders and board chairs out there: You have to give board members direction!
Yes, they are so willing to help, but the vast majority of board members want to be told how they can help you. Just like asking the donor for a gift, ask your board member to take on something specific. And when you do that, guess what? They do it! It’s an amazing thing that happens. People in general want to be told what to do. If you can give clear direction with solid outcomes and due dates, you will see action. Without those, you will only witness floundering.
So there you have it. Inspire, excite and direct your board into greatness. Everyone wins!
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.