A Board of Directors is an integral part of any nonprofit organization. The Board provides governance and support in all aspects of organizational operations. Nonprofits tend to have an idea of what an ideal board member would be–their vocation, their connections, their community involvement, their level of support, etc. We’ve found that larger organizations tend to gravitate toward individuals with strong connections and the ability to provide financial support, either through their personal donations or through their business contacts, and focus on the financial as the main area of engagement.
While financial support is a worthy (and necessary) part of board involvement and engagement, it’s important to look at engagement from many perspectives. Many boards have members who are engaged financially, but may not be very engaged in other areas. If we judge a board member just by their ability to contribute, we tend to miss out on other qualities that are crucial to the sustainability of an organization. Engaging your board in all facets of the organization can bring about a stronger feeling of engagement.
Our challenge for boards is this–engage your members in all facets of the organization. Here are some questions to consider:
- Do they know what it’s like to volunteer? If not, host an event where the board meets your volunteers or provide opportunities for board members to volunteer. Volunteering provides an opportunity for a board member to connect more deeply with the mission of an organization.
- Do they know what your staff members do on a daily basis? It’s easy to overlook day-to-day operations when your main concern as a board member is overall governance. Provide opportunities for board members to connect with staff either through events or one-on-one connections, possibly even shadowing a staff member for a day.
- Are board members mentors? If not, connecting board members with staff who are seeking mentors is a great opportunity to further engage your board. It also makes the board seem less elusive to your staff.
The other side of the board member coin is recruitment. Changing the way we approach recruitment can create a positive change in the level of engagement on a board. Here are some questions to ask:
- Does your board create a job description when there is a vacancy? This is the easiest way to pinpoint exactly what the board is looking for.
- Does the board include younger professionals/younger people? Younger people may not be able to make the kind of personal contribution usually expected of a board member, but they often come with connections and the ability to engage those connections in your mission. This means fundraising–just not in the way we normally think about it. Young people can also bring fresh ideas and creativity to all aspects of board operation.
- Does the board reach out to existing supporters when recruiting new members? This can include existing volunteers and donors within the organization. They are already engaged and may be looking to boost their level of involvement and gain leadership skills.
These are just a few ideas for increasing the level of engagement on your board. A “continuum of engagement” will only work if board members are fully engaged as organizational supporters and are connected to other supporters.
How engaged is your organization’s board? Has your organization tried any of these ideas? What are other ways your board engages with your organization?