In this interview, internationally recognized nonprofit founder and thought leader Rachel Muir joins me to discuss board engagement.
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Watch the full interview above or read the highlights below.
Key #1: Set Board Expectations from the Start
AE: Why do you think your board members aren’t fundraising?
RM: That is the number one complaint that people have with their boards … that “my board members aren’t fundraising.” And, I think the number one reason that this goes wrong is because expectations aren’t set from the get go. You’ve either got a board member that’s recruiting a new board member and they’re downplaying the expectation of service, or you may have just not properly set them from the beginning.
If you think about it, we’re really doing our board members a disservice by not being up front about the obligations of service. You wouldn’t take a job if you didn’t see the job description and if you didn’t have a really thorough interview process. You wouldn’t step into that not knowing what you were signing up for.
TIP — One size doesn’t fit all board members.
The thing about fundraising and boards is that it isn’t one size fits all. People are different. Some people are introverted, some people are extroverted. I’m a big advocate of having a board contract which lists ALL the ways board members can support fundraising. Challenge yourself to think of the 30 ways board members can support fundraising and then board members can pick the ones that speak to them.
One of the most frustrating things that I see going wrong with boards is passing out a list of prospects that the organizations want to get to know better and asking board members to sign their name next to people they know. That doesn’t work for people. They need a real diversity of ways that they can support fundraising.
Key #2: Keep Board Members Accountable
AE: Let’s talk about how to keep board members accountable.
RM: Have them sign up for programs. What programs am I going to go to and attend. And then send it back to them, send them calendar appointments for the events and the galas. I’m a big fan of really nurturing board members throughout their experience … and then have a 30, 60, 90 day check in — ask them, “how’s this going?”
AE: I love that. Asking them questions about how it’s going. I don’t think most nonprofits ask their board members for feedback. And I think at a minimum annually, but do check in with your board members… ask how’s this experience going for you and what should we be going differently?
RM: I also like the idea of giving board members a board buddy, so that they’ve got someone … a role model board member that’s setting the right expectations they can check in with. One of the toughest jobs an executive director will ever have is leading their board of directors, because it’s all about managing up and somewhat about herding cats because these are all volunteers.
TIP — Play to your board members’ strengths!
We’ve got to find out what motivates our board members and play to their strengths, praise them, nurture them and train them. The number one place I see organizations falling down is expecting a lot of their board members, but not giving them any training. They don’t come out of the box knowing how to fundraise — they need some help to get there.
AE: Yes, and I think it’s not just once a year training at a board retreat, but ongoing training at every board meeting. There should be 10-15 minutes of training set aside, instead of reading a boring development report. Why not do an interactive activity, discussion, or mini-training, so that you’re training your board members all year long?
RM: Absolutely, and I encourage people to think about your board retreat. Think about all of the creative, out of the box things you do at your retreat, like fun ice breakers, splitting up into groups to solve a problem, and try to take a miniature version of one of those activities into your board meeting and do a 15 minute brainstorm or even have board members call donors to thank them at the beginning of the meeting. I’m a big fan of giving them a script to make it easy, and some background on the donor, and some questions to ask.
AE: What are some tips and takeaways that viewers can start implementing right away?
RM: Your board is always evolving and growing. It’s organic. Board assessments are a fantastic tool that you can use to make some shifts in your board … to introduce a different board contract, step people up with more engagement and help prune the dead weight or enhance attrition.
AE: I love that term, enhance attrition. Because organizations are always afraid of offending board members and then they’ll leave, and I’ll say, “what are they doing for you?” and the answer is often nothing. So, we’re going to make room for people who are excited and who do have the time and energy to help us out right now.
To your earlier point, it’s never too late to start. If you’re at an organization where you’re feeling like “we haven’t done this” and “our board is a mess” … this is the year!
Watch the full interview for more words of wisdom from Rachel.
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