In our weekly column, consultants with decades of nonprofit experience answer your questions about fundraising, boards, strategy and more. To ask a question and be featured (anonymously!) in the column, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question will be answered by Nora Kyger.
I am thinking through updating requirements for board members, since I am having a hard time with support from a couple of them. How do you handle it when a board member does not support the organization other than showing up for board meetings?
There have been volumes written about the making of an effective board, to which I cannot do justice here, but there are a few basics to consider in approaching your dilemma.
First, it sounds like you have a job description or requirement list for board members, which is a good starting point, but you may need to update it. There are a few categories of responsibilities for board members that you should consider in their “jobs”:
- Financially supporting the organization. Some boards articulate a minimum gift requirement for board members, some do not. Our experience is that any financial expectation needs to be shared up front in the process of recruiting each board member. Best practices are that all board members should contribute to their organization, even if the board is diverse in terms of economic background. My preference is that all board members be asked to give a significant annual gift, whatever that means to them.
- Participation on board committees. Participation on a committee is an ideal way for board members to dig into an area that is important to the organization, such as finance, public relations, programs, or fundraising. If your committees are properly staffed and led by effective chairs, board member participation will be greater and more satisfying.
- Evaluation of the executive director. The ED is responsible for the operations of the organization, not the board members. The board, however, is responsible for the evaluation of the ED. By having an effective leader and conducting an evaluation each year, board members can ensure that the organization is going in the right direction.
Second, in addition to ensuring that the job description for the board supports their optimal effectiveness AND that every board member understands the expectations prior to joining, it is equally important to make sure that board members are engaged and educated about your organization and treated as your most important volunteers. How do you do that?
- Give them the opportunity to learn about what is happening with your programs and services — for example, if you are a human service agency, ask one of the program staff to speak at the beginning of the board meeting about his or her area or to share personal stories of your clients’ challenges and successes.
- Always make sure to thank at least one board member at each meeting about something they have contributed – whether it’s bringing people to your event, connecting the organization to a foundation, or securing some pro bono services. In addition, ask your committee chairs to give kudos to their fellow members as well when it is appropriate.
- Treat their gifts as the generous acts that they are – ask for their annual support in person with the participation of the chair of your fundraising committee. Acknowledge their gifts quickly and enthusiastically as you would for any your donors.
- Support the work of the committees. Most board members are busy people and need support from staff to be effective. This might mean reminding them of their assignments, drafting agendas or speaking points, and following up after critical board meetings to get feedback.
As you can tell, having an effective board is not just a matter of finding the right people and having the right rules; it is a matter of supporting them along the way with clear expectations, continuing involvement in your organization beyond just reporting at board meetings, and thinking of them as your most important donors. It can be a lot of work, but it is worth it!