Most nonprofit organizations will tell you that a motivated and compassionate team is what drives the day-to-day function of their organization. Key areas like administration, program coordinators, and direct service specialists are the heart and soul of what makes a nonprofit successful in addressing client needs and building a solid reputation as skilled providers in the community.
But where does leadership fall in this combination of expertise and connection to stakeholders? When contemplating your next steps in broadening awareness and projecting services to the next level, nonprofit consulting firms will tell you the strategy begins with the formation of a strong, sustainable board of directors.
A team of board members who are engaged with their community as well as in their industries, coupled with the desire to improve the lives of those served by a specific nonprofit, are an integral component of successful, long-term planning for growth.
But once you have these leaders on board, how do you keep their interest? How do you leverage their influence to drive an organization’s plan for maintaining services to those individuals who have the most need?
Where To Begin
The first piece of ordinary, yet effective advice a nonprofit consultant will tell you is to
run efficient, informative meetings. Board members by nature are busy people. In addition to their careers, they are involved in professional and philanthropic efforts and need time for their families and personal interests as well. Their time is a precious commodity and they cannot afford to waste it attending a 3-hour meeting that should have been an hour.
Ensure that agendas are created and disseminated to board members prior to meetings. Any questions that board members have about the agenda should be received prior to the meeting so that it can be properly addressed during the meeting without losing time and getting off track at the meeting. Don’t repeat in a meeting what has already been read in an email or report. Use this time for active discussions that propel the goals and tasks within the agenda.
And this might seem obvious, but since board meetings often occur around mealtimes it is always a welcome courtesy to provide refreshments. You don’t want your board member thinking about dinner when you want them to engage with the work at hand. It’s another way to show you care about them, their time and want to provide them with something in return.
Do They Know Your Story?
The stronger and more personal their connection is to your mission and vision the more likely board members will want to stay around to celebrate successful results. Since your staff members, especially those in direct service, intimately know your programs and gaps that may exist, they are an enormous resource to convey the impact of your nonprofit in the community. Enlist staff members to give presentations about programs and the people who are helped. Don’t be afraid to tug at their heartstrings. Remind board members why they are there and what they can do to keep the mission alive. Share success stories, but also describe areas where needs are not being met and what marginalized populations might be falling through the cracks.
Have They Experienced Your Work First-Hand?
It is one thing to hear reports about those vulnerable people who are helped or community issues that are addressed, but it is another thing entirely for board members to join in on the work your organization does every day.
Invite board members to “shadow” staff members who are out in the community providing direct services. We all know that people suffer from hunger, but that hunger looks different when serving food in a homeless shelter. We also know that there are folks who don’t possess the skills to land meaningful jobs that support their families. Board members can observe staff members providing employment skills to refugees and immigrants, the recently incarcerated, and people with physical or mental disabilities.
The more board members see, the more they are able to be an advocate for your organization in the community.
Don’t Forget the All-Important Thank You
Your board members aren’t volunteering for your organization because they expect a thank you or want any praise, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it to them when appropriate. And it doesn’t have to be grand or cost you much money. A nicely written thank you card goes a long way! But your appreciation can also be shown by providing small gifts, appreciation luncheons or even shout outs at events. By providing an environment where their endeavors impact their philanthropic passion, your nonprofit will enjoy the benefits of a board with staying power.
They will firmly connect with your work and enjoy being part of the solution that improves the quality of life in all of our communities. If you’re concerned about the best ways for your nonprofit organization to retain valuable board members, reach out to KM Clark Consulting for help. We know how important your board members are to you and we want to see them stick around for the long haul. Let us help you create a plan to make that happen. Contact us today to get started!