A common issue we find when talking with nonprofits – whether big or small – about their board engagement. Is your board full of (one or more of the following):
- passionate, eager people
- industry experts who feel their role is to advise vs digging their sleeves up to help
- willing to attend meetings (for the most part)
- happy to buy a table for the gala but hesitate to make an individual gift
- blissfully unaware of just how the organization “really works”
- truly care about the mission but unsure of how
- want to rub elbows with the other board members
- have many opinions on how things should be run
- very “problem-based” versus “solution-based”
In the same breath, we get the opportunity to work with many board members. The number one feedback we hear from them: “I want to help but I have no clear vision of what I’m supposed to do.”
Let’s break that down for a moment. You have a board full of eager and opinionated people who want to help… but they feel like they don’t have clear direction from the ED or the CEO. Imagine (in an optimistic world) what powerhouses your board could be if they had clear and distinct direction from you and your staff. What if you were all speaking the same message? That’s where the magic happens. One of my businesses coaches once told me “I hire motivated and creative people who I trust. Then I get out of my own way.” There is a reason you asked them to be on your board. Don’t be afraid to give them a message and let them take their passion the way it will take them. Help them find their motivation and their passion, step back, and let them advocate on your behalf!
First, you need to go make sure you as an executive team have your heads on straight about messaging. Then, you need to engage your board as if they were a new community member learning about your organization for the first time. Find the areas they naturally love and want to be involved in… then tell them how they can…and how their friends can, too.
For example. Create a “Key Messages for ______” just for your board. Possible subheadings:
- WHY IS ______________ DESERVING OF MY DONATION? (your organization’s why – the community impact piece)
- WHAT KIND OF ENGAGEMENT LEVELS ARE AVAILABLE TO DONORS/VOLUNTEERS? (how are donors involved? what are the levels of engagement community members can be involved either philanthropically or through volunteerism)
- WHAT ARE MY GIVING OPTIONS? (do you offer planned giving? annual funding? monthly AHC? galas? sponsor a child?)
- QUICK PROGRAM STATISTICS (quick but impactful things your board members can memorize and know)
Having your board be strong in their talking points – and having a deep understanding of the organization – will be worth all the time it takes. (it may take 1-3 board meetings to really explain the nuts and bolts and passion of you organization)
Lastly, you need to give them clear, distinct to-do’s. Some board members can take 2-5 to-do’s and some can do 1-2. You will know. For some board members their to-do list may include setting up a meeting with a large potential prospect once a month, for others it may be fostering a local corporate relationship to help with your upcoming event. For others it may be educating the local school system of your program. I promise you, taking the time to walk through from start to finish with your board and empowering them with the message and specific “to-do’s” will take your organization’s message and fundraising to the next level.