How to Delight and Surprise Your Nonprofit Board




Plans are important, but it's the action that makes the plan a reality. This month, the DBD team will be sharing ways for you to jump-start your work in 2023.

Delighting and Surprising Your Board

Boards generally don’t like to be surprised.

Generally, boards like to know what is going on in a nonprofit organization, and they want to be well-prepared for the unexpected.

But this is one crazy, intense world we are living in. It’s a world that may need a bit more surprise and delight. Some nonprofits could especially use an infusion of surprise and delight right about now.

Coming into this new year, leaders are a bit worn down. Even when organizations are doing well in terms of impact or finances, human reserves are somewhat depleted. We don’t have as much in our emotional bank accounts. The weight of collective anxiety in the world is having an impact.

Some boards need more work that is delight-full.

Some airlines are good at this. One of the flight attendants on one of my recent trips had a string of great one-liners: Wear your seatbelt like Jennifer Lopez, low and tight across your lap. There are 100 ways to leave your lover, but only eight doors off this plane.

As we became airborne and the plane climbed in altitude, he then said over the loudspeaker, Here come your appetizers! And he dropped packets of pretzels into the aisle. Snack packets slid wildly and uncontrollably from the front to the back of the plane—which made everyone laugh as we tried to lunge for one passing by. Just as the flow of pretzels stopped, suddenly more would zip past, and we lunged for them again.

Here come your drinks, he said. And we laughed again.

What was so awesome about that?

Most of us had never seen that done before.

What is your board’s version of scattering airplane snacks? What might it look like to surprise and delight the volunteers that work so hard for your organization?

It’s easy to fall into regular routines. Even board assessments done in the spirit of innovation and engagement ask questions such as, “Are meeting materials circulated with enough time to review? Are we reviewing our bylaws regularly? Are we ensuring we are evaluating the CEO in a timely way?”


When was the last time you asked if board members find their work interesting? How might you be more unexpected in a good way? How can you keep your board wondering what is around the corner? If you have done some cool things to engage your board, we’d love to hear them.

And, to ensure you kick off the new year with a little more delight, here are some questions that you can ask your board members:

  1. What is changing in you being part of this organization?
  2. What are you learning in our work together?
  3. What do you yearn to do to have greater impact?
  4. How might we make our time together more fun?
  5. What delights you?
  6. What might we explore together right now?

As you plan your upcoming board calendar, draw from their grab-bag of ideas to make your time together more meaningful.

And don’t worry—the due-diligence stuff will happen. Consider instead what it might look like to be ultra-focused on surprising those who are giving themselves to your organization.

Joan Erikson once said, “Practice nonsense. Have some joy during all your trudging, and don't forget to laugh. Tears no longer become you.

Welcome to 2023, delightful people.

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Posted by Kellie Wardman
Kellie Wardman

Written by Kellie Wardman

Kellie Wardman, PCC, CPCC, has worked in the non-profit sector for 20 years, serving as a consultant and executive coach for a wide range of innovative and impactful leaders and organizations. She has provided clients with comprehensive support in a wide range of disciplines, including strategic planning, board development and governance, facilitating partnerships and collaborations, and capital development.

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