How to Keep Your Board Members Inspired
Ways to keep your board members engaged
Now that you have successfully recruited new board members, how do you keep them inspired? The answer is to engage them and make them feel that they are appreciated and vital to the organization. Most people join a board because they want to make a difference, they want to give back, and they want to be a part of a community of people who care about the same things they do.
Tips for engaging and inspiring new board members:
1. Conduct a thorough onboarding
Have the board chair and possibly a member of the recruitment committee meet with all the new members to explain the details of board meetings (frequency, length, content, protocol etc), share the by-laws, and reiterate the expectations and obligations — so they feel comfortable and confident at their first board meeting. No surprises.
2. Create a board buddy system
Pair the new member up with an existing board member so that they don’t feel alone. Ideally, have the board member buddy meet with them before the first board meeting so they can ask any questions and so they feel they have a friend. That person should check in with the new member frequently, seek them out at events, and be available to answer questions. .
3. Keep them informed
I have often seen Board Chairs and Executive Directors feel hesitant about reaching out to board members because they don’t want to “bug” them. But the truth is, board members want to stay informed about the organization. Frequent, but not too frequent, updates, stories, and highlights are always welcome. You also should not be hesitant to inform them about difficulties or challenges in the organization. Board members hate to be surprised. I knew one CEO who only reached out when he had good news. That was a disaster because the board was caught completely off guard when he had to share unpleasant and bad news. Another CEO only reached out when he needed help so it seemed like he was always asking them for something. Neither approach is good. Keep them informed with the good and with the bad. An Executive Director I know has started a practice of a Friday afternoon email to the board with high level information about what went on during the week. It is lighthearted and friendly and very well received. I also encourage other staff members to communicate with the board, either with a programmatic or development update. Of course, this should only happen with the knowledge and consent of the Executive Director/CEO. And, be sure to keep a record of all communication in the development database!
4. Keep them busy but not too busy
Board members want to feel relevant and needed but they don’t want to feel burdened. You should not count on them to do staff work. You need to always remember they are volunteers doing this service out of the goodness of their hearts. Introduce them to staff members, artists, program directors – the people in your organization who are doing the important and exciting work every day. Make sure the board meetings and committee work is something they can feel proud about and that instills a sense of accomplishment. Do not nag them or get annoyed when they don’t do something. Ask what they need to successfully complete the task then praise them when they complete it.
5. Thank them
This cannot be said enough! Thank your board members for their service. And be sure to thank them for their financial contributions. Thank them personally and genuinely. People who serve on non-profit boards are not paid. This is not their job. Create opportunities to recognize and profile them on the website, newsletters, blogs etc. Everybody loves a shoutout. Follow them on social media. Show an interest in their lives
Board members serve because they care so please care about them. The “care and feeding” of board members is an important part of your job so take it seriously and, as far as the “feeding” part goes, it always helps to have food and drink at meetings!
Have fun and good luck!
NEXTSTEPS GUEST WRITER: MARY HEDAHL | 1.23.21
Mary Hedahl is a development professional who has fundraised for the arts, social justice, civil liberties, human rights, and the environment for over twenty years.
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