By: Sharon Castle
“How do we engage our board members” or “How can I engage as a board member,” is a frequent request we receive at Nonprofit Network. We’ve developed an excellent workshop on said subject; it’s a great tool, but it’s ONE workshop so here are some ways to make your nonprofit board experience more fulfilling.
First and foremost, make sure when you agree to serve on a board, you have a real interest in the organization’s mission. Think about what talents, relationships and other support you can and are willing to share. Be honest about how much time and energy you are able to devote. A mentor once told me “When you make a commitment to serve on a board, don’t check your brain at the door when you attend board meetings or other sessions because if you do, you will be bored very quickly and a boring life is no fun.”
When facilitating, I almost always begin workshops by reminding attendees that the session will be more meaningful and interesting if they think about the information they are hearing and how it relates to them and their organization. If you embrace this philosophy in your board role and thoughtfully participate in discussions, I promise your involvement will become much more meaningful and interesting.
Strong organizations have a high level of trust and one way to build trust is to do what you say you will do. For instance, if you are the board secretary charged with taking minutes, please do so and get them out in a timely fashion; preferably within a week of the meeting. And if you aren’t able to attend a meeting, ask another board member to handle the minutes instead of defaulting the task to staff. This models great board behavior for other members and shows staff that you understand your role and are taking your responsibilities seriously. Follow-up with the board member who took the minutes in your stead and make sure they go out as per usual.
Find ways to make board meetings interesting. Suggest inviting a long-time donor with a passion for your organization’s mission to a board meeting to share their reasons for supporting you and have members thank them for their support. Or, suggest inviting a client or program recipient to a meeting to share how their lives were impacted by your work. By doing this, participants will feel special, board members will learn why folks support you or benefit from your services and it gives all involved a chance to connect in a different light. AND, it’s way more enjoyable than listening to reports. Which, by the way, should have been in the board packet and been read before the board meeting. Just saying...
Most importantly, embrace your role and help foster a culture where folks share and test new ideas that help deliver your mission, programs and services in an even more effective way.
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