September 2, 2014


Maximizing your board’s impact

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Greg Walker Wilson

Greg Walker Wilson

Ever feel like there is a disconnect between what you expect from board members and the roles they fall into? 

Clear two-way communication from the CEO and board chair to other board members can lessen these unintentional misunderstandings. 

In particular here are three strategies:

  • So they will know what they are committing to, give each prospective board member a clear board job description that outlines key responsibilities.
  • Provide a board orientation for all new board, regardless of whether they have prior board experience or not. In it, the board chair and CEO should cover expectations, organizational culture and norms, and the board manual of financials, annual reports, bylaws, board policies, etc.
  • Have each board member sign an annual commitment letter as a condition for continuing on the board. This provides a board member who can no longer serve with a graceful way to opt out of the board, even if their term is not up.

With demanding work and personal lives, the reality is that being a volunteer board member is not typically the highest priority in a board member's life. 

They often are proud they made it to the meeting, whether or not they did anything or thought about the organization since the last meeting.

Thus it is often difficult for board members to focus on 10 (or 12) board roles. 

Therefore, in addition to the necessary and important legal/compliance role, consider focusing on how board members can be the best ambassadors and fundraisers they can be for your organization.  

Here are a few best practices towards this end:

Board members as ambassadors

  • Update a Board Ambassador Chart at each meeting to catch board members doing something right when it comes to fundraising or being an ambassador. Via peer pressure, the board members who didn't get recognized - because they didn't do much - will either try harder in the interim or realize that yours is a working and effective board, not a "letterhead only" board, and that they don't have the time or commitment to stay on this board.
  • Give out board business cards so they can proudly show their affiliation with your organization.
  • Give them suggested talking points and elevator speeches.
  • Make it as easy as possible for them to represent you or put your organization's name out in the circles in which they associate.

Board members as fundraisers

  • Require a significant (to them) annual donation - whether $25 or $25,000.
  • Solicit names from board members for your donor prospect list.
  • Have them sign thank-you letters to donors.
  • Have them make thank-you calls to donors.
  • Ask them to accompany the CEO or development director on "asks."
  • Ask them to sign an individualized commitment each year that outlines which fundraising activities each board member commits to. This allows each board member to opt in on the things they feel comfortable with and places limits on what you'll ask of them. Once they're done, they're done - don't reward model behavior with more work.

Greg Walker Wilson is Principal of Walker Wilson Consulting, former CEO of Mountain BizWorks and strategic planning chair of the N.C. Center for Nonprofits.

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Comments

Thanks for all the specific suggestions. I'm looking forward to sharing these with our board chair and ED.

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