Tuesday, 31 July 2012

How to get the best out of your Board

If you work for a charity then chances are that you are familiar with the concept of a Volunteer Executive Board. Often this concerns a group of men and women (sadly the former are usually rather over-represented) who have at one time or other agreed to be a member and who may have a range of - sometimes strong, sometimes tenuous - affiliations to your organisation. They are often, but not exclusively, people with a background in business or a high-profile role in the community and if you are lucky they have a decent network.

Although in principle they are a well-willing bunch of people, it is worth putting some thought into how to use their goodwill and often limited time most effectively for your organisation's fundraising goals. Without a strategy for proper engagement, you run the risk of your board being at best a high-level think tank and at worst a disruptive force within the organisation. 

The following five steps should help you get more out of your Board:

1. Engage them. Even though you might expect your Board members to be 'on board' with regard to the work of your organisation, it won't hurt to remind them what your organisation is all about. Share your vision and your enthusiasm. Share success stories. Make them 'get' it.

2. Brief them. Give them big picture updates on your organisation's fundraising goals, what you are doing to achieve them, how successful you are and what challenges you need to overcome. If they are expected to host or attend events, then brief them as you would brief your Chief Executive or senior staff. In order to be effective advocates for your organisation they need to know the big stuff (what your organisation's 5-year fundraising priorities are) and the detail (the job and interests of the person they are sitting next to at a cultivation dinner).

3. Give them a job. Choose something that suits their skills, interests, network and resources. Some Board members love to host events - think fundraising dinners, thank-you receptions - in their homes or offices. Others can use their network to make connections with individuals or trusts you are approaching for funding. Some may be able to make sizeable donations themselves.

4. Catch up with them - and not just at the annual Board Meeting. Have regular opportunities for feedback and make sure that they remember to do what they committed themselves to doing.

5. Thank them. Remember they are giving up their free time to help your organisation. 

Are you getting the best out of your Board?


  1. Hey The Collectivists!
    Great post and frankly I don't think we can write enough about Board engagement. These are great steps you are suggesting. If I may add a to your great ideas? I have worked with nonprofits on Board development starting with a strategic recruitment, onboarding and orientation process. As important and falls within your engage them point - is creating Board meeting agendas that truly engage. We must, as a sector, eliminate what I call "bobble-head" Board meetings. And lastly there is that issue of Board term limit compliance - because everyone needs a rest and others just need to go. Term limits allow nonprofit leaders to put the ideas you have suggested into action by politely and by law asking those less committed Board members to complete their service and move on. (With attendant ceremony and kindness.)
    Thanks again for your great thinking!

  2. Hi all,
    From a consultant's point of view, I would say that timing is also a key issue to consider when working for non-profit organisations (for free :) ). I guess it's the same with top managers, we like to focus our energy on tasks where we have the greatest impact within the shortest time period. Therefore, in my opinion, this is also important that the board meeting agenda take this into account :)
    K. Smith

  3. Hey Barbara and Kevin - thanks for your comments! Love the idea of onboarding programmes for boards. I recently asked a board member what he found most useful - he said direct briefings from the Vice Chancellor, so he could advocate properly. Least useful (interestingly) were board meetings. Food for thought!