Our board just isn’t a fundraising board.
We hear that feedback from nonprofit leaders – both staff and volunteer – nearly every day. Whether it’s said with regret or with frustration, nonprofits, schools and churches are clearly puzzled as to why their board seems disengaged or focused on less-important minutiae.
If your board isn’t full of leaders looking to make a real difference in the community, if they aren’t people of influence and affluence who can bring resources to bear on the issues your organization addresses, the issue isn’t with your volunteers, but with the work you’ve asked them to do.
Take a look at your board meeting agendas for the past year or two. Look over the topics and consider:
- If the primary agenda items have to do with event planning, committee reports and/or procedural tasks, you will attract board members who are interested in listening to committee reports and creating fun parties… not board members of limited time, but high intensity focus to raise funds for projects they are passionate about.
- If your agendas lack storytelling, you’re likely to have board members who have enough connection with your mission to explain the “why” themselves. Any other board members are likely long gone, because all of the information you gave them had no context or emotion.
- If your agendas move from one tightly-scripted presentation to the next, you’re likely to have board members who like to listen to staff presentations and not board members who want to help craft a vision and debate on how best to make that vision a reality.
- If your agendas are entirely led by staff, is it any surprise that no volunteer has stepped up to lead?
Volunteer leaders with a passion for causes and strong leadership skills have little patience for ineffective boards. If they’re not being utilized to their full abilities, they won’t make a scene. They’ll simply disengage and find another outlet for their resources and talents.
If you’re reading this with a sinking heart, thinking that maybe you’ve created exactly the kind of board you don’t want, start taking action today to clear up the hidden agendas in your board meetings.
- From now on, every board meeting includes input by all, and volunteers should lead most of the meeting.
- Keep committee work in committee. Reports can be emailed out ahead of time, and only questionable items or items needing board approval should be a topic on your agenda.
- Don’t let one meeting go by without a mission moment. Tell a story… or better yet, let someone who has benefited from your work give a testimonial. Hold your meeting at a program site so that the board members can see and hear your mission in action. Do something, each meeting, that engages the heart as well as the head.
- Make sure each meeting is a must-attend meeting. There should be at least one thing that absolutely requires the input and support of the whole board in order to make your organization successful. If there is really nothing of that sort going on in your organization right now (and, if there isn’t, you might have a little more soul-searching to do as a staff team), then cancel the meeting. Don’t waste a leader’s time.
- Build in accountability. Make timelines explicit. Follow up between meetings to ensure things are done. Add co-chairs to committees that are floundering. Ask volunteers to report on their progress in front of the whole group. Strong volunteers thrive under that kind of accountability rather than wondering if their efforts even made a difference.
- Stir in relationship building. Along with helping a worthy cause, leaders join boards to get to know others and build their own network of colleagues and friends in the community. Look at your agenda and see if you can build in simple activities to help strengthen the ties between your volunteers. Bring in coffee or a light meal. Begin each meeting with a question like “When are you proudest serving on this board?” Encourage more established board members to take a new board member under their wing.
Boards function as well as we allow them to. Nonprofits survive with the help of a variety of volunteers playing a variety of roles. By raising your standards and expectations, you will create room for the leaders you need to join you in making your mission reality.