Every organization dreams of recruiting and retaining a board of visionary planners, generous investors, willing askers, and passionate pragmatists.
Despite these yearnings, too many boards are assembled without a strategy. Board selection is pushed by a date when a “slate” must be presented. Frenzied phone calls result in the inappropriate recruitment of people who may be well intentioned but not able to propel the organization to the next level.
Those recruited in haste are often assured “there’s nothing to it.” They’re told such things as “You don’t have to do anything but come to meetings” or, worse yet, “We just need your name—please say yes.”
In The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, I explore the core attributes of high-performing boards. Here, let me simply single out five ways you yourself can motivate your board to serve at its best.
Keep your organization’s mission at the forefront
A large part of a board member’s responsibility is to be a “keeper of the mission.” The board’s ability to keep the mission is directly linked to its members’ ability to articulate it. And that requires regular exposure and vigilance.
One sure way is to keep the focus on why you do what you do, not just on what you do. Site tours and meetings with people who benefit from your organization can keep board members reminded of why they got involved in the first place.
Secondly, board meetings should always include a “mission moment”—5 to 10 minutes in the middle of the agenda to hear from a grateful patient, happy teacher, transformed client, satisfied parent, or other individual who shares their pleasure with what your board members have done for them and others.
Be forthright about the time
Some organizations seem unable or unwilling to correctly assess the time they expect from board members. They end up conveying unrealistic expectations—usually downplaying the hours required to fulfill the various responsibilities.
Whether you’re recruiting a new board member or a standing member of a subcommittee, be absolutely clear about the time commitment. How many meetings will they be expected to attend? How many committees might they serve on? How much work is expected outside of board meetings? How many hours spent in fundraising training, cultivation sessions, special events?
One of the gifts board members give us is their time. If we waste it, they can easily—and quickly—become resentful.
Be as transparent as gin
Because board members hold the legal and fiduciary responsibility for your organization, they must know the truth about all facets of its operation. Their right to be informed is incontestable.
Transparency, with its dimensions of full accountability and disclosure, is the watchword of the 21st century. Donors want it, board members ought to demand it, and the community deserves it. To prevent any withholding of information, do your part to ensure that there’s sufficient board involvement in financial, legal, and programmatic evaluation.
Granted, there will be instances when it’s inappropriate for the full board to know all the details of a situation (sensitive personnel issues come to mind). These are best kept in the executive committee.
But excepting these few instances, help your board members exercise their right as the “owners” of the organization to be completely in the know.
Hold purposeful meetings
The purpose of board meetings is twofold. On the one hand, members attend to review financial reports, discuss new policy recommendations, hear of recent activities, and act upon committee recommendations.
But these agenda items are also the framework for something equally important: the creative interaction of the board itself.
Board meetings that fulfill their true purpose do the following:
- Promote a sense of teamwork
- Reinforce the shared vision
- Afford time to recount stories and successes
- Connect board members with the work of staff
- Provide opportunities for social interaction, and
- Reinforce the overall sense of the mission and its importance to the community
That’s a big assignment. But if you’ve ever attended such a meeting, you know the feeling of exhilaration. The air practically crackles.
Clarify the role of fundraising
Some organizations assign the job of raising money to the development or fundraising committee. Others believe it’s the responsibility of the full board. Still others, such as large universities and hospitals, shift more and more of the load to staff.
Regardless of the approach, board members have an irrefutable responsibility to give. They signed up to take on all of philanthropy’s tasks to the degree they can—joining, serving, give, and asking. The job isn’t multiple choice.
As for their specific role in fundraising, ideally they’ll play one or more of three important roles:
Askers call on prospective donors and seek their investment in the organization.
Cultivators bring people into contact with the organization and generally prepare them to be asked.
Stewards keep the relationship going once the gift is made.
What is important to understand is that fundraising is a multifaceted activity and the entire board must be meaningfully involved in one way or another.