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Keeping Your Board Engaged for Your Cause

As 2010 winds down, I wanted to answer a question that came up several times in response to my GuideStar Newsletter articles this year:

How do I keep my board engaged? Particularly if it's a statewide or national board?

This is a question I get all the time. Everyone wants their board to be engaged, but ...

What do you really mean when you say an "engaged board?"

Do you want your board members to be just paying attention? Or do you want something more?

How's this for a definition: "Engagement is inspiring passion in someone so they will want to take action." (This definition of engagement comes directly from a terrific new book, The Dragonfly Effect, by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith, which I highly recommend.)

So let's reframe the question:

"How do I inspire passion in my board members—whether they are local or far flung—so they will want to take action?"

In order to do accomplish this larger goal, your board members need to know what your organization is trying to accomplish and what their role is to make it happen.

This is a big shift for many boards. I find that organizations don't have a clear set of goals each year and don't know what they want their board members to do.

You need to be able to express your goals in terms of how many people you want to help, such as:

"If we raise $250,000, we can help 1,400 families."

Instead, organizations often say, "We want to help as many people as possible."

If your board members know exactly what your goals are for the year, then they can rally around them.

Clear goals help define your organization's effort for the year. And clear goals give people something to strive for.

Here's a plan for you if you want to keep your board members fully engaged.

  1. Be sure your board members know what you are aiming to accomplish this year.
    Put it in real numbers. For example:

    • How many kids will we send to camp?
    • How many meals do we want to serve?
    • How many scholarships will we award to bright young students?
  2. Be sure they know what the impact will be if you can make your plan happen.
    Put it in real-people terms and talk about the ultimate benefit. For example:

    • We'll help kids who go to camp be healthier, have better self-esteem, and do better in school.
    • We will help hungry people get nutritious meals right here in our community.
    • We'll help our brightest minds so they can help solve tomorrow's problems.
  3. Be sure every board member knows what his or her job is to make the plan happen.
    If you want to keep them engaged, you've got to give them clear actions. Everybody gets to have a role in implementing your plan. For example:

    • Some board members are in charge of phoning donors to say thank you.
    • Others are seeking sponsors for your annual gala.
    • Others are in charge of enlisting more volunteers.
    • Others are serving on a task force to identify VIP prospective donors.
    • Others may be serving on a governmental relations committee to strengthen your relationships with elected officials.

    The deal is this: EVERYBODY on the board has a job and is in action for the cause.

  4. Keep in close touch with your board members each week or month, letting them know of your successes.

    • Success breeds success.
    • Good news stimulates momentum and makes everybody happy.
    • It encourages action.
    • Peer pressure will also encourage everyone to step up and do their job, too.

    Also ask for help frequently from board members if you need it. But ask for specific things.

Try these strategies, and see if your board doesn't get fired up!

Thanks again for all the comments on my articles this year. I'm glad I have been able to provoke and inspire you with some new energy and ideas!

Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE
© 2010, Gail Perry Associates

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

Topics: Fundraising