3 Keys to Maximizing Board Membership

When you hold your next board meeting, look around the room. What do you see? An engaged, invested, and motivated group dedicated to being the very best decision-makers and community ambassadors for your organization?
If so, it’s true that you’re well ahead of the game. You’re poised to successfully fulfill your mission—which, as I’ve reminded you previously, is the key role for any director. If not, you’re in good company, as some 27 percent of executives say they’re missing the right board members to help effectively govern their organization.
But however you answer that question, the reality is that boards of made up of people. And that means board management is a constant matter of relationship-building, teamwork, and collaboration. Regardless of where you find yourself and your board, here are three keys you’ll want to keep in mind as you work toward getting the most out of your board.

1. Board members are “yes” people.

No doubt, you’re already replaying the latest back-and-forth between yourself and a board member. “Yes man” or “Yes woman” isn’t exactly how you’d describe this person, is it? But here’s the key point you want to keep in mind at all times—your board is made up of men and women who have all said yes to both your mission and your organization.
And both of those categories—your mission and your organization—are essential to keep in mind. There may be multiple nonprofits with (at least somewhat) overlapping missions in your community, but your board members have agreed to volunteer their time and talents to help guide your organization.
Don’t forget to approach board members with an attitude of thankfulness, and don’t hesitate to ask your board members what they need to be the most effective ambassadors they can be for your organization.
It’s like the flight attendants say, “You have many options, and we thank you for choosing us.” That’s true of each member on your board, so don’t forget to thank them, and don’t miss the opportunity to equip them as highly effective community advocates.

2. Board members are people too.

It’s very likely you entered the nonprofit world because you care about people. You want to see homeless neighbors housed, hungry neighbors fed, or nearby children protected from danger. But don’t forget, the board members serving alongside you are first and foremost people too.
That means you can’t take board members for granted. If your only interaction with a board member is at a monthly meeting, it shouldn’t surprise you to find friction, apathy, or some other unhealthy results creeping into that relationship over time.
Trust is built through relationship. Spend time with board members outside of “official business.” That’s what the local coffee shop or hiking trail is for. Do you have an upcoming board retreat already on the calendar? Is the agenda too bogged down or constricted to allow for more relaxed conversations, shared meals, or a fun outing together?

In your pursuit of serving people around you, don’t overlook the people you’re serving alongside. Invest the time to build trust, share meals, laugh together, and connect over shared experiences. Doing so will not only make decision-making go smoother, it will add to your mission-driven endeavors.

3. Board members are funding gatekeepers.

Chances are, most—if not all—of the members currently serving on your board are well-connected within your local community. It’s likely that some of your members serve on multiple boards that span a variety of causes and stive to meet a variety of needs within your community.
What does that mean for you? It means that, along with the wisdom and decision-making ability each board member brings to the table, they also bring with them a circle of influence. (It may go without saying that board members will also typically bring with them an ability and desire to give financially toward your mission.)
As you plan out your next campaign, budget cycle, or event, ask yourself: “How can I invite my board members to participate?” Again, board members are people who have said “yes” to your mission. Give them an opportunity to contribute in every conceivable way—whether through individual donations, extending giving opportunities to their contacts, or leveraging relationships with foundations, don’t forget to ask your board members to continue to act on their commitment to your shared mission.
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