It’s no secret that a major key to success for nonprofit organizations lies in the strength of its volunteer board of directors. Board engagement is a practice that many nonprofit entities both strive for and struggle to maintain. If you can describe half of your board members as engaged, nonprofit leaders would say that you are doing better than most. Here are some of the key components to utilizing nonprofit (NFP) boards to their fullest potential.
A strong orientation program will ensure new board members can hit the ground running. Your best board members are generally very busy people who may sit on multiple boards serving a variety of community needs. It would be doing a disservice to your organization if your new board member were to spend their first year figuring out the lay of the land. Design your orientation program to provide a detailed history; introduce the key players; identify all committees and sub-committees; share the board’s vision and goals, and provide a clear road map for the direction of the organization. After a thorough orientation, have your board member share how they see themselves best contributing to the organization’s success.
Keep your nonprofit board members engaged by keeping them busy! While that might seem to be asking a lot of new (and existing!) board members, remember that volunteers join boards to make a difference. If your board is not being utilized, then you create an opportunity for them to lose focus and possibly open the door to them leaving to make a difference someplace else. However, be careful not to confuse board engagement with meeting attendance. Some board members are behind-the-scenes workers, and while their presence might be lacking, their efforts are not. Make sure the contributions of all board members are recognized and that frequent progress reports are given on the goals the board has set for itself.
Strategic planning is one of the most important functions of a nonprofit board. However, trying to accomplish strategic planning at a regular board meeting – where time and participation may be limited – does not allow for deep thinking and high quality conversations. Leave the regular board meetings for progress updates and short term goals. Schedule special sessions for strategic planning and other issues that don’t fall under your regular order of business. For example, a separate meeting that focuses solely on board orientation can create an opportunity for board members to become familiar with each other and will allow for incoming members to see the passion and excitement that some of the veteran board members bring to the table.
Let the board see the good, the bad, and the ugly of the progress you are making. If your board feels like everything is always going “perfectly” and nothing needs to change, they will be less likely to share their opinions and suggestions for improvement. A well rounded perspective will illustrate to your board what’s working while also revealing the weaknesses that could be improved upon. If the board helps to resolve a weakness or implement a new and successful change, be sure to give them plenty of praise. Those who receive praise once will likely strive to receive it again.
Keeping a board of directors constantly engaged is not something that will happen on its own. It will take hard work and a commitment of time. However, the investment will surely pay dividends in the end. After all, utilizing NFP boards to their fullest potential is a key to success.
Contact Olsen Thielen Principal, Adam Hennen, CPA, CFE, with any questions. He can be reached at 651-483-4521.