3 Steps for Developing a Passionate Nonprofit Board | npENGAGE

3 Steps for Developing a Passionate Nonprofit Board

By on Sep 22, 2020

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Your board members are the face of your nonprofit. They’re instrumental ambassadors and advocates within the community, and they ultimately pave the way for your nonprofit to thrive. In other words, keeping board members engaged is imperative to your success.

From initial recruitment to the completion of their terms, your board members should feel like a vital part of your work. As you start to develop your member engagement strategy, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the essential methods for doing so effectively.

Here at Boardable, our goal is to help organizations amplify their impact within their respective communities through better board function. Using our firsthand experience, we’ve broken down the process of developing a high-impact board into 3 key steps, including:

  1. Recruit exceptional board members.
  2. Build a board member engagement strategy.
  3. Empower members with modern communication tools.

Once you effectively implement these steps, your board members will be collaborating with one another and working as a cohesive unit in no time. Let’s dive in!

 

1. Recruit exceptional board members.

Before diving into onboarding new members and stewarding strong relationships, you’ll need to develop a method for locating passionate, qualified candidates. Identifying and securing exceptional board members can be challenging, but the right ones will become invaluable resources for your organization.

As you enter the recruitment process, keep in mind that this entails more than filling seats. Rather, recruiting requires a strategic approach to selecting members who will advance your work. Acquire a diverse group of individuals who are passionate about your mission and who are willing to put in the necessary time using the following steps:

  1. Develop a list of potential candidates who exemplify your ideal board member. Search your supporter database and keep an eye peeled for those who have demonstrated a history of advocacy and genuine interest in your cause. From here, you may publicize within your network or rely on word-of-mouth referrals from existing board members.
  2. Screen your top prospects. Reach out and have each candidate fill out an application form, where they answer questions pertaining to why they want to join the board, what skills they hope to bring, and what they would like to gain from the experience. Upon reviewing the applications, create a short-list of candidates based on skills, values, and any other criteria that you set.
  3. Conduct interviews. Interviews offer an opportunity to discuss the role and the candidate’s experience, qualifications, and personal goals. Overall, it’s a chance to see if they’ll be a good fit for the role and the organization as a whole. Create a standard set of questions, including those related to time commitment, potential conflicts of interest, etc.
  4. Select your board members. Finally, your nominating committee will choose who will fill the role. From here, the chair of the nominating committee will need to call each candidate, either officially inviting them to serve the board or to letting them know that their services aren’t required. Along with the call, new members should receive a formal letter confirming the invitation.

Remember, you never want someone to feel obligated to accept a board seat. This pressure will compromise their experience and may impact their passion for your cause altogether. In short, this should be a mutually beneficial experience in which both parties are excited.

Once you’ve selected your board members, the work isn’t over! Recruiting is an ongoing process. Current members should look out for potential candidates to fill their shoes once their term is over. Further, the executive director should also periodically assess current board members’ skills to identify potential gaps. This analysis should then be used to guide the recruitment process in the future.

 

2. Build a board member engagement strategy.

Maintaining momentum among board members can be a challenging task, but it’s a necessary consideration. After all, the most effective boards are passionate about their work. That’s why it’s so important to have member engagement strategies set in place from the get-go. Let’s walk through three primary opportunities for developing an engagement strategy.

Strategies for engaging nonprofit board members

Tighten up your board meetings.

Board meetings are the best opportunity your team has to discuss key initiatives. When run effectively, these meetings will help your nonprofit make consistent progress toward its goals. As you’re planning your upcoming meeting, keep these tips in mind to keep them focused and productive:

  • Distribute dynamic agendas. Your agenda determines how engaged (or disengaged) your board members will be. Creating and sharing one in advance gives members the opportunity to fully prepare and come with insightful thoughts.
  • Hold meetings at the appropriate frequency. This is at the executive director and chair’s full discretion. Smaller boards will likely meet once a month, whereas larger ones may meet quarterly. There may also be other considerations that will impact the frequency, such as tackling high-priority projects.
  • Limit unnecessary discussions. With mundane discussion items, your board will be mentally clocked out before you realize it. Do your best to distribute reports ahead of time and reduce the amount of time spent on routine items (e.g. approving the previous meeting’s minutes). This way, the majority of the meeting can be spent focusing on talking about strategic direction.

 

Focus discussions on the impact you want to create.

While day-to-day operations are certainly part of your board’s primary concerns, you’ll want to have more strategic conversations surrounding your mission. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with a bored board.

Over the course of their terms, shift the discussion so that your board of directors spends the majority of its time focused on your organization’s mission. For instance, you may consider discussing the following:

  • Similar organizations’ work within the community
  • The impact of your programs and improvement opportunities
  • Changes in your organization’s community to reassess your approach

By having these types of conversations, you’ll set your board up to make high-impact decisions and further your cause. With time, you’ll find that they’re much more engaged in your work this way.

 

Offer other opportunities for interaction.

Only communicating during meetings will hinder your board’s growth. Connecting with your board members outside of the boardroom is a powerful engagement strategy that can boost morale and engagement. Plus, this is a great way to promote camaraderie among members.

There are two primary ways you can communicate outside of board meetings and build a more cohesive board:

  1. Retreats: An annual retreat will get board members away from your usual meeting space, allowing them to critically think about where your organization is going and how it will get there. Larger organizations may consider hosting a two-day retreat to cover all their bases, whereas smaller ones may only need one afternoon.
  2. Social Events: Informal gatherings will allow board members to connect on a personal level. Consider hosting social events where members can talk about their personal lives. For the time being, you’ll have to adhere to social distancing guidelines, so virtual get-togethers may be the way to go.

 

3. Empower members with modern communication tools.

The most effective nonprofit boards are the ones with detailed communication plans. Whether they’re in a meeting or between them, board members should proactively collaborate in order to achieve their goals. Historically, boards have relied on email and phone calls to get the job done, but modern technology has changed the name of the game!

By investing in board management tools, your members will be able to maximize their time together as well as make use of their time apart. Here’s an idea of what tools will empower your board to become highly efficient:

  • Virtual meeting capabilities. Especially with social distancing guidelines, many organizations are turning to tools that help them meet from afar, but you aren’t just limited to a basic video call anymore. According to this guide, you’ll want to search for a board management platform that offers both video conferencing and task delegation.
  • Messaging tools. Keep the conversation going between meetings with a discussion board. Board members will be able to continuously collaborate on key initiatives instead of waiting until the next meeting.
  • Secure document sharing. Nonprofit boards often need quick access to classified documents. A document center will house all pertinent resources in one convenient location. Look for a solution that enables you to restrict access to designated users.

This is just a glimpse into the resources you need. In any case, investing in the right tools will supercharge your communications, so take the time to select the platform that best suits your needs. Kick off your research with this helpful membership software guide from Double the Donation as a solid starting point.

 

Your board members are your organization’s most precious resources. Following these steps will ensure you’re maximizing their experience and developing the most passionate board possible. In doing this, you’ll build lifelong ambassadors for your cause and put your organization on the fast track to achieving its goals. Best of luck!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeb 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 of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.

 

About Boardable: 

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.

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