Posted by Pamela Kilzer


So, you have your nonprofit organization established, mission set, vision focused and fundraising started. Everything works well, and the community is impacted. But one sticky area exists which you just can’t seem to get moving: your board of directors.

Unfortunately, this issue occurs and plagues many nonprofits. Trustees get involved in the board of directors, then without warning become stagnate, not necessarily dragging the organization down, but definitely not building it up. Fortunately, the issue doesn’t have to be a permanent state of affairs. An engaged board can help your nonprofit organization (NPO) gain traction in its cause, increase awareness and most importantly, raise money to support the mission.

So how can you get your trustees more involved? Today, we’ll list the ways to motivate and engage your board of directors.

Recognize why they joined.

All trustees join a nonprofit board for a reason. Recognize this and focus your efforts on emphasizing a purpose for board members. Most board members have a specific passion for the organization’s cause or have had personal event affected by the same issues addressed. Over time, this passion can burn out or check out, but it still exists, just waiting to be tapped into.

Try sitting down and talking with your board members on an individual basis, and ask them specifically why they want to be a trustee. Focus on questions such as:

If a board member has been stagnate, ask them specifically what would make more involved, then do just that. When you make an effort to focus on the reasons trustees got involved in the first place, they will feel more connected to the organization as a whole.

Set goals.

Once you’ve recognized why trustees joined the board, work with them to set goals on what they envision for themselves and the organization. Motivate board members by creating goals fit to their personal strengths and skillsets. Set goals for the month, year and long term which align with your NPO. Be sure to make the goals specific, measurable and obtainable so board members don’t feel overwhelmed or confused.

Get creative about how to tap into trustees’ various strengths and interests. Let their individuality drive your mission for renewed creativity and strategy. When high expectations are set from the beginning, board members will work to accomplish them.

Get clear about their role.

Some board members may not be involved simply because they don’t understand their role. This can be addressed with clarity and direction. A nonprofit board listens to the community, plans, hires, fires and evaluates the executive director, decides on NPO policies and procedures and fundraisers. Focus on these responsibilities while developing board bylaws, committee structure and individual roles.

Allow the board to create these elements so they feel responsible and willing to follow through. Initiate a strategy for the board to accomplish its goals, then decide how each member’s roles can contribute. Help trustees come up with a means of accountability. What roles does each board member have, how can the rest of the board help them to accomplish these roles, and what are the risks and challenges if these roles are not fulfilled?

Personalize the relationship.

Focus on personalizing the relationship between you, your trustees and the organization. Take time each month to develop a relationship with your trustees in more than just work-related areas. Celebrate personal and professional accomplishments, conduct yearly retreats, recognize special days, host out-of-work parties and engage trustees one-on-one.

You can even develop relationships between board members, staff, clients and donors. Have a success story from a client? Let them come and share at a board meeting. Have an interested donor? Let a board member meet with them to discuss the cause, or send a personalized thank-you note. When relationships are built across business lines and outside professional areas, board members will feel more engaged.

Have strategic meetings.

When it comes to board meetings, be as structured as possible. Tedious meetings can end up sapping board members’ enthusiasm. This mentality can easily be avoided. Keep meetings short and to a minimum: 90 minutes long at the most, and be sure to start and end on time. Bring food and allow a short break to keep energy up and rejuvenate attention spans. Have a written agenda with a timeline, and then stick to it.

Use board meetings as a “show time” for staff and constituents. Think strategically about what you want the meeting to accomplish and how to come across. Demonstrate the impact the nonprofit has while keeping the mission front and center throughout. Whenever discussion occurs, stick to the schedule and keep dialogue focused on the issues at hand. And remember, a meeting may not always best fit the situation. If possible, update board members via email or newsletter. They will stay informed, while greatly appreciating the respect for their time.

Stay mission-oriented.

Your nonprofit organization’s mission motivates and engages board members. Trustees should know the mission and work towards it in as many ways as possible. Invite board members to NPO programs and activities, let them sit in at community meetings, take them to appointments or invite them to the facilities to meet staff members.

Have members self-evaluate to find out their feelings about the NPO, how much time they have to contribute and whether their role fits them. Be sure the people on your board reflect the organization’s mission. If there are areas for improvement, find someone who can fill the role. If board members are experiencing burnout, don’t be afraid to let them move on. When your board reflects your mission, your cause will drive engagement.

Keep them informed.

Oftentimes, miscommunication arises between staff and board members, leading to a disconnect in the organization. You can avoid this by taking intentional steps towards keeping trustees informed. Strive for consistent board member engagement by providing written summaries on activities throughout the year. While board meetings may only be once or twice a month, summaries could potentially be sent weekly or biweekly.

Don't overwhelm trustees with too much information at one time, but be intentional with what you want them to know and how the nonprofit organization can use their help. Information leads to motivation, and when board members feel engaged, they feel motivated.

Lead by example, but let them lead too.

Enthusiasm has influence, and your enthusiasm for the cause can motivate trustees’ enthusiasm as well. Help lead the board by example—if you have a positive and engaged attitude, they will feel the energy. Don’t be afraid to be pushy on trustee involvement, but don’t antagonize the issue either. In the end, the board should be leading. The executive director manages and organizes the board, but doesn’t lead. Encourage the board chair to drive the agenda, conduct meetings and raise the bar on member engagement.

Your nonprofit board contributes to whether or not the organization makes it to the next level, so let the executive director and board feed off one another’s energy. A board exists like a family; it needs care and cooperation from everyone.

It can be easy to let your nonprofit board fall to the wayside and become stagnate. But when used correctly, a board can be a valuable asset, bringing better exposure to the cause, making sound decisions for the future and generating effective leadership. Use these tips and check out How to Build Your Board of Directors to establish a strong and effective nonprofit board. Because when your NPO’s board of directors succeeds, your cause succeeds.

Want to learn more about how to build a successful and effective nonprofit? Firespring can help! We offer helpful materials, webinars and seminars on how your nonprofit can market itself to further its cause. Find out more by calling 877.447.8941 or email hello@firespring.org.


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