All too often the Board of Directors or Board of Trustees of a nonprofit organization are misunderstood. They are the legally necessary oversight group of a mission-based cause, however, the manner in which they are recruited, on-boarded and engaged are all generally done in a very haphazard way.
My experience both working with Boards professionally and serving on them is that if you commit to a set of tried and true principles of doing business, you Board will perform at the highest level! You will love them and they will love you back for a long long time. What is the highest level? It means:
Uphold the mission and core values
Understand their role is to govern, set the strategic priorities (not get in the weeds), ensure resources and advocate for the mission and enthusiastically prepare for and participate in meetings, events, and other organizational initiatives
Give generously and frequently
Introduce others to the organization and share their personal connection or story
Work well together and respect differences of thought
Support the CEO or Executive Director, understanding that he or she is their sole employee
Hold information in confidence
Tried and trued principals:
Recruit your Board members with intention and thoughtfulness: Having a process to think about who you want on your Board, how many you must have in accordance with your by-laws, when the terms of current members expires, and the important attributes needed to support your organization’s long-term strategic goals are extremely important in recruiting members to the Board. You have to start with planning before doing. This means that though a Governance Committee of the Board or a Task Force you need to spend time thinking about who you want, why you want them, who will reach out to have an exploratory conversation about service on the Board, and what you will take. Also, what is your timeline? You will have to understand that for some individuals they may not be ready to join your for six months to a year. Think about how you would want to be engaged to consider serving on a Board. You would want to be approached in a respectful and thoughtful way where there is a process and it is extremely clear why this organization wants YOU.
Prepare to spend time with your Board members – together and individually: Your Board are often your first to invest in your mission financially each year and often at a major gift or significant level. They have to be treated with the utmost respect and reverence for their volunteer leadership. This means including your donor-centric culture and philosophy with your Board as well as with your donors at large. It’s important to spend some one-one-time with your Board members in addition to the time that is spent in scheduled group meetings. This doesn’t have to be solely the job of the CEO or Executive Director but it can include the Board Chair, Development Director and Development Chair. All of these individuals can participate in Board Engagement Visits throughout the year. They can be one-on-one or with a few people at a time. It’s a chance outside of the agenda-packed Board or Committee meetings to have a check-in with your members to see how they feel about their service, what questions, ideas or needs they may have and an opportunity to deepen the connection with them.
Provide your Board with a well-designed orientation and on-boarding experience: very few Boards have a formal orientation or on-boarding to share the wonders of the mission, programs, key staff as well as information about how the Board functions from logistics of meeting times and places to a review of the expectations and the commitments that are made by members upon agreeing to join the Board. An effective orientation takes time and thought as well as likely continuous tweaking to improve the experience. Remember this is part of the ‘first impression’ your new members will have and it is important to make it a great one that will inform, inspire and engage them.
Nurture your Board relationships now and after they are no longer on the Board: As noted earlier about spending time with your Board members outside of the scheduled Board meetings, it is important to think of how you can steward them as individuals and to show that you have taken notice of who they are, what is important in their lives beyond your organization and mission. Do they have children? Pets? Do they love to scrapbook, do extreme sports or sing with a choir? These are all important parts of what makes your Board members the special people they are so take time to know them and to treat them in ways that show your care for all of who they are, not just their membership and financial support. One of the most often missed relationships are the ones with Board members who are no longer on your Board. It’s important to also keep in touch with them and explore ways for them to stay connected with you in meaningful ways.
These principles in action result in loyalty and a happy, meaningful relationship – for both the Board members and for the organization!