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10 Tips for Keeping Your Board Fired Up and in Action for the Cause

Someone said once, "We all get the boards we deserve." They meant that the more attention we pay to our board and its individual members, the more we'll get out of them.

We all want enthusiastic, action-oriented board members who pay attention and get things done. But high-performing boards don't just happen. It takes time, clear focus, and careful strategies to get them there.

Here are 10 tips for creating a board that can deliver.

  1. Reawaken their passion.
    Board members often forget why they care—and even why they are serving. You'll get the most out of your board members if you can fan the flames of their passion for the cause. Asking them, "Why do you care?" creates amazingly powerful conversations that can open their hearts and evoke new energy.
  2. Give them a great experience on the board.
    Look at it from the board members' perspective. They want something out of their own experience. They don't want a passive role. They want to have meaningful work and to see real results. And they want to have a good time doing it.
  3. Have interesting, upbeat meetings dealing with big-picture issues.
    If all your board members are doing is attending boring meetings, then you are going to have a bored board. And a bored board is not going to be an action-oriented board. Don't give your high-level people low-level work. Don't waste their time.
  4. Give them social time to meet other board members.
    Board members want to meet the other members. You can't create a sense of "team" without giving them time to get to know each other. Social time creates community and collegiality—and trust. Encouraging friendships among board members helps mold them into a team.
  5. Focus board members on action items to accomplish, not on attending meetings.
    Do you want your board attending meetings or do you want them making things happen for you and your cause? Don't get me wrong—meetings can be important—but board members need to understand that their job includes more. They need to be in action as well.
  6. Be clear about what you need them to do and when to do it.
    Board members tell me that they want clear direction from the staff. They want to know what to do and when to do it. If you can give them clear action items, then they can make it happen. Don't make them guess—give them a list and follow up cheerfully and often.
  7. Focus them on friendmaking for the cause.
    Board members may be afraid of fundraising and "asking," but they are not nervous about making friends for the cause. Set them up to host tours, socials, coffees to learn about your cause. Show them how to spread the word about your great work in the world.
  8. Encourage a positive attitude.
    Negativity will not change the world—it will drive people away. It's through positive, exciting vision that you can keep the flames of energy burning—and keep your group motivated. Great energy attracts people—and funding—to your cause.
  9. Help them understand specifically what you are raising money for.
    Show your board members that you need $xx dollars to help xx kids after school (or xx students, or xx ballerinas—whatever your cause). You'll be amazed at their action when they have a clear target that will help a specific number of people.
  10. Appreciate every effort they make.
    How often do you thank your board members? Please don't forget that they are just volunteers, trying to squeeze your cause into their already busy lives. Personal appreciation goes so very far—and helps keep them motivated and happy.

Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE
© 2010, Gail Perry

Gail Perry is the author of Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action and founder of Gail Perry Associates, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based consulting and training firm.

Topics: Board Development