As nonprofit professionals, we know that a good board is the lifeblood to a successful organization. It is also no secret that the world and our communities have been forced to become more separate due to a global pandemic. So, how do we stay motivated and connected and keep board members engaged in a time when we’re all burned out on the computer?
This blog will offer 3 basic, but sometimes overlooked, tips to keep board members engaged in a meaningful way.
1. Consistency: Set Expectations and Keep Them!
With so many unknowns lately, it is important to stick to a routine as much as possible. Make sure your board knows what to expect, even during this uncertain time. Set a specific schedule and set specific expectations ahead of time — communicate these things as early as you know them! Sending out annual schedules and board requirements as soon as possible in the year will help ensure your board can clear their busy schedules in advance. Host an orientation when members join or to kick off a new year and share important organization history and future goals during that time. Also, take the time for members to get to know each other when possible. A connected group will serve the organization better and enjoy their time more.
Share what being on the board really means:
- How often will your board meet and when?
- How long will meetings last and what will be covered?
- What kind of commitment (time/financials/expertise) is expected from each member?
PRO TIP: Be sure to get your board members’ expectations as well! Why did they join your organization? For the community connections? To make a difference in an important cause? To learn new skills and build their resume? Do what you can to gather this information and get creative in how you can help satisfy each board member – they are volunteering their time, after all!
PRO TIP #2: Don’t underestimate the power of a bribe. I’m half-kidding here but think about how can you “incentivize” your board to attend an important meeting or orientation. When boards were still meeting in person, chances are that good refreshments or lunch were provided to them… Could you send them Starbucks gift cards in the mail to “fuel” their meeting? Members will appreciate the extra effort.
2. Delegation: Keep Board Members Engaged with Important Tasks!
Even in a digital world, we can still stay connected through our missions. Board members want to feel involved and important. Don’t be afraid to delegate or source them for valuable tasks and input. Chances are good you have identified board member skills and specialties during the recruitment and onboarding process. Each board member brings a unique set of insight and abilities.
What can your board members offer in terms of:
Some board members may be retired or have a more flexible schedule. What volunteer opportunities are available to them? Could they help at special events or take on an active role in the mission? Inviting the Board to be on-site and in the trenches from time to time can really serve to keep them interested, inspired, and loyal to the cause.
Some board members may have more to offer financially in terms of sponsoring events or leading the way on top donations. Be sure to give the board plenty of opportunities to give and let any giving expectations be known upfront.
Some board members have unique experience in law, health, finance, or other niches. Make sure to place these board members on committees where they can really shine in their expertise.
In sum, a board member who just shows up for meetings once a month for an hour won’t feel very connected to your mission. Brainstorm how you can personally invite each member to connect on a deeper level based on their unique interests and abilities.
3. The 4th T: Remind Them of Their “Why!”
As a hardcore storytelling advocate, I invite you to give your board members another opportunity to serve your organization through a 4th T…
Let me begin by saying it is very important during the board recruitment and onboarding process to share your nonprofit’s backstory to further each member’s knowledge and passion for the organization. The organization’s testimony can instantly further the bond between board member and mission just as it furthers the bond between donors and mission.
That said, it is also important to remember each board member is a part of your mission and passionate about it for a reason. What is their backstory? Why did they join YOUR cause? Learning why your mission is important to each member will help you connect better and engage them more. In essence, take the time to get to know your members! What have they experienced and how are they connected to the cause?
Encouraging your board to share their testimony with others will likely remind them why they care about your organization in the first place and why others should as well. Your board could be your biggest advocate. It’s common for board members to be afraid of “making an ask” to potential donors or their family and friends. If you can help them reframe “the ask” by encouraging them to share their story and then invite their connections to become a part of it, it might seem less like a “sales pitch.”
Story-sharing has never been easier in the digital era. Can you help your board members craft social media posts or e-mails to their friends and colleagues in which they can share the story of your organization with their personal flavor?
In short, creating human-to-human connections to keep board members engaged, and giving them tangible expectations and important roles will help bridge the gap we are all experiencing in this separate but desperate for contact world.