Meet the New Board, Not Like the Old Board

When you think of your organization’s assets what comes to mind? How are you using those assets to help you innovate and scale more successfully? Your board is one of your top assets, but ONLY if you use them effectively.

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Your board is a concentrated collection of supporters who are willing and able to spend their time, talent and personal finances to push your cause and accomplish your mission. That is a lot to ask of someone.

Cultivating, recruiting, maintaining and working with a board can have some considerable upfront costs of time as you get to know your community and potential board members, recruit them to your organization and establish effective and ongoing working relationships. But the payoff of having the right group of supporters at the table with you every month (or quarter) is invaluable.

When thinking about best ways work with our boards the discussion usually leans towards keeping board members engaged. Which is great, but we also hear the same things.  “Have a good onboarding process!” “Have retreats where you discuss your mission and vision!” “Provide comprehensive reports to keep your board informed!” These are all important and necessary but for the most part these can be pretty passive activities for the board (including the retreat if you don’t hold it in an effective manner). For your board members who are likely very busy and effective folks, this can be mind numbing and easy to just show up and check the boxes for their board service. This is a huge loss for the nonprofit.

Engagement with your board members is crucial but if you want them to truly help the organization or innovate and scale, it’s important to take some extra steps:

Set goals with your board. Real goals like you would with your staff and make them SMART goals. (Review: these are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.) This gives them tasks to do between board meetings that they know are going to help the organization. (Also, pro-tip - don’t assume that the executives on your board know how to do this well, work with them throughout the is process so you are all on the same page.) It’s hard and takes practice. This is also a great way to keep the board in the know about what is going on as they have to be familiar with the org to set these types of goals. This is also a great way to really nail down what a board member wants to do with the organization. When I get to use the skills I use every day to help another organization, it’s really fun and selfishly, feels great.

Keep it interesting. Don’t hold a board meeting containing information that could just be sent as an attachment. While it is necessary to discuss many updates and finances in person, consider why your board is involved and community updates, extended mission moments and changes in the landscape.  One board I am on, I learn something new at EVERY board meeting. I seriously, sit down in front of my binder, say hi to everyone and get giddy about the second hour of the meeting because I know I am going to learn about my community, hear recommendations from the staff who are way more knowledgeable and talented than I am and even get to have a little debate, it’s awesome. I look forward to these every quarter.

Don’t underestimate the culture of your board and how they interact with one another. Relationships can at times peer-pressure us to show up and perform. Use this to your advantage. Everyone already has a major commonality; you. Another great experience was a board where we were all intimately involved with the org on a regular basis and could involve our loved ones. The board meetings were always fun with passionate supporters the ED was engaging with us every month.

Finally, don’t forget about them once their term is up!  There are still organizations that I talk about to friends when I am no longer on the board. Many of these members would also happily buy a table or bring folks to a cultivation event, but since they are no longer in the day to day, if they aren’t also cultivated, they won’t know about these opportunities. Also, as their networks continue to grow so can yours.