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Stop Scapegoating Your Board

I’ve stood around the proverbial watercooler at enough nonprofits to have heard this tired story: “But the board never does anything…” or “Our organization is floundering because our board doesn’t help with fundraising.”

I get it. It’s frustrating if you’re the Executive Director or a staff member. You want to see your board as committed to the organization’s mission as you are. You want them to be true partners in the work.

But, have you looked in the mirror and asked yourself this hard question: Have I done my part to provide the context, tools, and coaching that will help the board fulfill its roles and responsibilities?

Board members are volunteers. Most of the time they don’t have much—if any—nonprofit experience. Yet, we expect them to fully embrace their duties of loyalty, care, and obedience. In order for them to be successful, they need onboarding, training, and support just like any new staff member.

So, if your board isn’t living up to your expectations, consider some of these best practices:

  • Share a board member job description when you meet with a prospective board member. As Brené Brown says: “Clear is kind.” From the beginning, be clear about the expectations of this role so individuals can decide if it’s a good fit for them and this season of their life.

  • Each year, invite your board members to complete a Board Engagement Form, which gives them the opportunity to indicate how they can best leverage their skills and network on the organization’s behalf. This should include serving on a committee, introducing prospective donors to the organization, and making a personally meaningful financial gift.

  • Provide regular board training throughout the year. Perhaps you can include an article about philanthropic trends in the board packet, invite a guest speaker for a mini-coaching session during a board meeting, or create a handout of key organizational talking points so your board members feel equipped to be an ambassador.

  • Remember to thank them for their service—and be specific. Everyone wants to be appreciated and acknowledged for what they contribute. Take the time to write a quick handwritten note to each board member at least once per year. Mention some specific thing you appreciate about them: how they’re always well-prepared for board meetings; how they check in with staff and offer encouragement; how they attended an event that was inconvenient for them; how they bring a unique perspective to board conversations.

Chat back…

How do you prepare and equip your board members to serve with excellence?

Interested in reading more? Check out this article.


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