Engaging Your Nonprofit’s Board: 5 Tips to Boost Involvement

Your nonprofit’s board members are some of the most valuable individuals involved with your organization. Not only do they demonstrate an uncommon commitment to your mission by aligning themselves with your nonprofit, but they also are on the front line of ensuring your organization’s success.

That being said: some board members are intensely motivated, and others are a bit more hands-off. For this reason, it can be difficult to know how to engage with your board in the right ways.

So, how can you strike the right balance to maximize board member involvement? Here are a few key strategies:

  1. Cultivate board members as you would volunteers.
  2. Motivate your board members.
  3. Promote a positive nonprofit culture.
  4. Celebrate your board.
  5. Lean on their skillset.

Ready to improve the way you engage with board members? Let’s discuss these tactics in a bit more detail.

1. Cultivate board members as you would volunteers.

Your board members are your nonprofit’s most valuable volunteers.

Generally, nonprofit boards don’t receive any type of compensation for their involvement. Instead, they choose to freely give their time and usually their own financial support to further your organization’s mission and fundraising efforts.

Don’t take your board for granted; you should approach board member cultivation with the same techniques and attitudes as you do for typical volunteer cultivation.

If you want to boost your board’s involvement, there are many volunteer cultivation strategies that will engage your board just as well as they do typical volunteers:

  • Train them. You likely rely on your board to make fundraising connections, especially for major gifts. Board members might shy away from this aspect of their position if you don’t equip them with the tools to succeed. Train them in in skills like asking for donations, and make sure they’re educated on all aspects of your fundraising strategy.
  • Don’t put too much on their plate. Give board members room to engage in a way that fits in with their schedule, and don’t penalize them for taking on fewer responsibilities.
  • Keep up with them regularly. Make sure you effectively communicate with board members and keep them up-to-date on your fundraising calendar. Don’t rely on email blasts to inform them of meetings and events: send out RSVP requests, share an online events calendar, communicate over the phone, etc.

(Looking to improve the way you keep up with your constituents, as well as your board members? Check out Double the Donation’s list of top nonprofit software providers to find a solution that’s right for you.)

Takeaway: Don’t take your board members for granted! Keep them engaged by cultivating them like the (very important) volunteers they are.

2. Motivate your board members.

Your board won’t be likely to stay engaged if they feel their efforts aren’t meaningful, or that your nonprofit isn’t progressing towards your mission.

Additionally, your nonprofit’s board may be comprised of community members who sit on the boards of other organizations as well. While there’s nothing wrong with supporting multiple nonprofits, you should appreciate that you don’t have a monopoly over their time.

If your board members feel like your nonprofit isn’t going anywhere, they might jump ship. Motivate them so that they view your organization as a valuable outlet for their philanthropic efforts.

To keep your board members motivated, try these strategies:

  • Clarify your mission. Nothing makes board members lose interest more than a nonprofit with an unclear mission. Develop a straightforward case statement before courting board members, and if you find you’re not on the same page as your board, work with them to strengthen your overall mission.
  • Uplift positive news. If your board feels like successes are few and far between, they’re less likely to stay involved and engaged. Keep them regularly updated with positive news, large and small, so that they feel they’re helping your organization make progress.
  • Share your strategy. Your board won’t stay engaged if they feel as if their efforts are being put forth blindly. Share your fundraising plan with your board, and keep them in the loop when you change course. Additionally, take the time to explain decision making and accept board member input when appropriate.

Takeaway: Keep up your board’s spirit! Be sure to show them how you are working together to further your nonprofit’s mission so that they feel your organization is worthy of their time.

3. Promote a positive nonprofit culture.

Making your board members feel at home in your nonprofit should be your first priority, and this starts by promoting a positive culture among staff, volunteers, and your board.

What does this mean, exactly? In short, your nonprofit should show individuals that their efforts are valued. In the case of your board members, they shouldn’t feel like their membership is a chore, or that the relationship is one-sided.

The easiest way to promote board member involvement is to make their involvement a positive experience. To promote a good nonprofit culture among your board, you should:

  • Respect their time. Nothing makes board members less enthusiastic than feeling like your nonprofit is a time suck. Don’t hold overly long or unnecessary meetings, and work with them to set a meeting schedule that works with their other obligations.
  • Let them be heard. Allow them to voice concerns about your nonprofit, and hold yourself to implementing their suggestions regularly. After all, they’re there to help guide your organization. If you work with a nonprofit consulting firm, let them be a part of those conversations as well.
  • Check in regularly. Sometimes, board members won’t come to you with concerns or questions: you’ll have to go to them. Make sure you put forth the effort to communicate with your board and find out how they’re feeling. Set regular check in dates, and integrate these sessions into your board engagement process.

Takeaway: Just as it is important to make sure your board members value your nonprofit, it is also necessary to show them they are valued in turn.

4. Celebrate your board.

One recurring theme among these strategies is expressing to your board that you truly care about their involvement. It’s important to show board members that they’re integral to your nonprofit’s success, and your board will be more inclined to stay involved if they feel needed.

However, to boost engagement more effectively, you need to take this tactic to the next level. In the same way that you show appreciation to donors and volunteers, you need to take extra care to celebrate your nonprofit’s board.

Consider these tactics when celebrating your board and their contributions:

  • Extend your thanks. Directly giving thanks to board members is the easiest way to show your appreciation, but you need to keep it up regularly. Throughout the year, extend personal thank-yous (either in person, via email, or in a letter) that directly address individual board members and their accomplishments.
  • Host stewardship events. You probably host stewardship events to boost donor retention; board member stewardship events accomplish something similar. Invite your board to cocktail nights, potlucks, galas, etc., and use these events to strengthen ties between your nonprofit and your board.
  • Hold member retreats. Every so often, consider holding a board member retreat. The retreat doesn’t have to be an extravagant vacation; just make sure everyone has fun. These retreats should emphasize the community aspect of your board, as well as be a reward for their hard work. You can also use these retreats as an opportunity to strengthen leadership development.

Takeaway: Because your board is comprised of volunteers, putting in the effort to celebrate their commitment can pay off big by keeping them excited to be a part of your nonprofit.

5. Lean on their skillset.

Finally, one of the most direct ways to keep your board engaged with your cause is to work their skillset into their membership duties.

Your nonprofit courted each board member because they offer unique perspectives, opportunities, and talents that are beneficial to your organization’s mission. Once they’re on the board, you shouldn’t forget what makes them stand out as individuals.

Keep these strategies in mind when divvying up official duties:

  • Form committees. Break your board into leadership communities. These should be comprised of members who are involved in similar professions or who have a shared background in a particular skillset. Look to these groups to inform your fundraising strategy in their areas of expertise.
  • Go beyond fundraising. Some board members won’t be skilled in fundraising, and others might not be able to make significant personal contributions to your cause. That being said, you can still involve them in other areas of your nonprofit where they might shine, such as donor acquisition and retention initiatives, item procurement for auctions, etc.
  • Listen to your experts. Part of why you’ve assembled a board is to have a resource to consult when making big-picture decisions for your organization. Don’t forget why they’re there! Your board can offer valuable insight during fundraising strategy planning or when conducting campaign feasibility studies for capital campaigns.

(Want to brush up on campaign feasibility studies? Check out DonorSearch’s clarification of common campaign feasibility study misconceptions before going to your board.)

Takeaway: Your board isn’t a monolith, and you shouldn’t treat them like one. Engage your board members by weaving their personal strengths throughout their duties as board members.

Your board is an important resource when it comes to furthering your nonprofit’s mission, so it’s important to engage productively with your board members. With these strategies in mind, there’s nothing stopping you from boosting board involvement!

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