Spring is a busy time in the nonprofit world. So many organizations host galas, golf tournaments, run/walks and other fundraising events. But before you become consumed by centerpieces and table assignments, consider this: How are you engaging your board? As you quickly approach the end of your fiscal year or prepare for annual meetings, board retreats or just ongoing board meetings, how do you maximize precious time with your board?
Bill Ryan, lecturer at Kennedy School of Government, recently wrote in a Nonprofit Quarterly article titled “Nonprofit Boards and Their Relevance in Governance: An Invitation to Engage”:
“Look beyond [the board’s] narrow, official job descriptions to the more subtle, important and personally satisfying aspects of their job.” How can we “make board work more meaningful for board members and more consequential for their organizations?”
More Than Reporting
Your board meetings MUST be more than just an update. You selected each board member because they bring something unique to the table. And they agreed because they believe in the work you are doing and think they have something (usually intellectual capital) to contribute. Leverage their gifts, educate them on your organization and on their role, engage their minds and get them thinking critically. Make sure their meetings are regarded as much more than obligation. Below are some goals to consider as you create your agenda. Do your meetings:
- Exchange ideas
- Resolve issues
- Deepen commitment
- Ask questions
- Accomplish something – inform your board of the goal/objective at the beginning of each meeting
Think bigger. Solicit and value critical thinking from your board. Pick a topic and give the board a chance to give opinions. You might be nervous to open the floodgates of opinions or fear potential conflict. This is where your organization’s leadership team and executive director are crucial. They can structure and guide the discussion. Provide background information and objectives for what you would like to accomplish through discussion. You can even go so far as to outline “rules” for how opinions can be shared. Make sure that everyone has a chance to speak and not just those with the loudest voices.
- Break into small groups
- Pick one event, program, or challenge – discuss the pros and cons
- Open discussion on ways to engage and thank donors in more meaningful ways. Wouldn’t you love to know what they (as donors) think about your cultivation, acknowledgment and stewardship?
Review Action Items
Now that your meetings are full of great discussion, it is even more critical that you review action items at the end of the meeting. Ensure that one person is responsible for each follow-up action, and follow up with that person between meetings. This is important for two reasons: it gives your board the autonomy and authority to move the organization forward, and it outlines clear expectations for ongoing communication between meetings, holding everyone accountable.
Incorporate Mission Moments
- Present a personal experience, testimonial or story about someone touched by your organization. Consider bringing a team member, patron or client. Be sure you coach this person before the meeting to ensure that they are confident, comfortable giving their personal story and plan to speak beyond a program overview or update.
- While they might never come out and say it, your board wants to (and should) be thanked. Take a moment to incorporate moments of gratitude. Thank specific board members for their contributions to your organization. Look beyond your organization; recognize members on a recent promotion, marriage, or achievement.
Provide Continuing Education and Evaluation
Even something as small as changing the wording from “training” to “continuing education” could grow your board’s enthusiasm. For the most part, we have found that community and business leaders do not want to be told that they need to be “trained,” but we all can learn new skills, acquire new information and rediscover our passion. Support and guide your board, especially new board members. Below are some possible topics to consider.
- Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy statistics on philanthropy nationwide
- Major gift fundraising focused on storytelling and role-playing exercises
- Industry research and news – As a leader you are probably inundated with articles, press, studies, papers and blogs about the industry in which you work. Remember that the board does not have this same pipeline of information. Do not overload them with facts, but it is helpful to remind them of how your organization fits into the bigger picture.
- Self-evaluation – Led by the board chair or vice chair, it’s a good idea to ask each member to evaluate their engagement goals and performance every year. Ask each board member to set personal goals for themselves as board members. After a successful board self-evaluation process is initiated, the next step is to have your board evaluate their performance as a group.
As with any change or improvement, it takes leadership, time and commitment. Whether just thinking through the logistics, providing continuing education or helping with a complete development and leadership assessment, The Curtis Group is here to help.