Exceptional Board Members, Clear Expectations
It’s a typical scenario. Your freshman board members start with enthusiasm, but once the initial excitement of being part of your organization fades, they begin to lack follow-through or initiative. A board that is not living up to your expectations or simply not performing can quickly degrade the overall board member experience. Before you get frustrated, it is important to realize that your board members can’t live up to your expectations if they don’t know what you want and need.
Communicating your needs transparently and well will help board members do the best possible job for your organization. These tips are designed to help you break through the barriers and make it easy for your board to surpass expectations.
Expectations for Board Members
Every nonprofit and mission is different, but making a list of the desired qualities of the ideal board member and what you expect from your board members can help you define your needs and goals. With this “job description,” you can clearly communicate your needs during the recruitment and on-boarding process.
Your board can’t do their best work if they don’t know what is needed. If you do not have formal expectations or have a plan, don’t fret; you can create a list of expectations for your board at any time. Expectations that are not fully realistic, that don’t make sense or that require more of a commitment than you originally communicated won’t help. Instead, create an actionable, easy to understand wishlist that transparently lets your board know what is needed. If this is new for your organization, be sure to consult existing board members on what they think is realistic and inspiring. Some nonprofits use a “commitment contract” in which board members agree to deliver on specific goals.
Here are some basic points to start with. These baseline expectations apply to every nonprofit board, regardless of focus, mission or population served, and are the ideal jumping-off point for your own list of expectations.
Become a Brand Advocate
Your board members are uniquely poised to spread the news about your organization, your mission and the events you have planned. Each member has a strong personal and business network, and they should be willing to call on this circle and share your nonprofit. Make it easy for your board members to advocate for your nonprofit by offering to give tours, sharing details about upcoming events and even hosting a morning coffee break or meeting for interested parties. The more your board advocates for your nonprofit, the better. This can lead to new sponsors, new donors and new relationships for your organization.
Contribute Personally to the Organization
Some boards have clearly defined guidelines for board contributions. You do not have to set up a formal amount, but your board should be willing to contribute financially. Even a small gift helps support the organization and ensures buy-in and involvement.
Your board should be willing to open doors for you, make key introductions and forge connections. You can provide a guideline of new contacts per month, a set a number per year or leave it open while communicating the importance of making that connection.
Contribute Time or Skills
Not all contributions are monetary. Board members with specific skills sets ranging from accounting to marketing and graphic design can provide invaluable assistance and advice in their key areas. Having a board member that can join a committee, work with staff and give broad guidance can allow you to benefit from your board’s expertise.
Assist with Fundraising
Your board can and should assist with your fundraising initiatives and big events. By inviting others to contribute and sharing your organization’s events and needs on social media and within their own circle, your board members can significantly boost your fundraising efforts.
Attend All Meetings
Your board should be expected to attend and actively participate in all meetings. Without attending these key events, they simply won’t be able to act effectively for your organization. Attendance requirements should be outlined in the board member contract and orientation. You also need to spell out in your bylaws if you will allow remote attendance and the standards around it. Make board meeting and event details as straightforward as possible to facilitate good attendance.
Not every board member feels comfortable talking about development with potential donors. Luckily, the cycle of philanthropy has room for other strengths. Some board members might excel more at maintaining relationships with donors after the initial donation. They could be on the team that calls donors personally and thanks them for their support.
In summary, setting expectations clearly is the foundation for creating exceptional board members. Knowing what you want and need from your board, then clearly relaying your needs ensures that your members always exceed your expectations and that your board remains healthy and functional.
Jeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Ind.
Boardable is an online board management portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning and everything else that goes into running a board of directors.