In my fifth podcast episode, I spoke with nonprofit professionals about how to put together an engaged, effective board of directors and volunteer committee for your organization. Both of my guests this episode have worked with many nonprofits in diverse cause areas from a consultant perspective.
Please note: I highly encourage you to listen to the Your Dream Board of Directors podcast episode before reading this blog post! My blog lists some great “action items” for you to take after you listen to the podcast, plus additional resources you can check out if you have further questions. However, my podcast guests give so much additional rich information which isn’t included in the article you’re about the read.
My first guest was Emily Layton, who currently works as Waves, Inc.'s Development Director and previously worked with a nonprofit consulting agency. I asked Emily how she suggests finding great board members, and her primary piece of advice was to use your current resources. Often, the people who are currently passionate about your mission will know other hardworking and passionate people. She also said that Waves finds great directors through the Young Leaders Council, which is a training organization for young professionals who want to become board members in the future. Another similar resources is the Junior League, but if your city doesn't have these organizations, we suggest asking your local Chamber of Commerce about a similar group available in your area.
Every board of directors should include a few different committees which can keep your organization on track. Emily suggests, at the very least, looking for professionals who would be experienced in or passionate about these areas:
- Human Resources
- Marketing (ok, so maybe I added that one)
Once these committees are established, Emily believes you should allow board members to decide which committees they want to be a part of. People will work harder on projects they enjoy and care about. She also recommends allowing regular opportunities for board members to switch it up and move between committees. This way, if someone realizes they aren't a good fit for one committee, they can feel valuable somewhere else.
Emily also gave several suggestions on how to keep your board engaged in your organization.
- Committees -- The committees themselves drive engagement because board members have more opportunities to contribute toward achieving goals through smaller committee groups than in large, fast-paced board meetings where they can get lost in the crowd.
- Mission Moments -- At Waves, a staff member or client will share a story in each board meeting about something positive that happened in the organization recently. Regularly hearing these stories reminds board members why they love supporting the organization's mission.
- Individual Meetings -- Executive Directors should have an open door policy with board members who may have something they want to say, but don't want to share the opinion in front of a giant room of people. Emily also encourages ED's to meet with each board member individually at least once per year to go over their accomplishments and contributions over the past year to find areas of opportunity and/or express appreciation.
To ensure board members know what to expect from your board, Emily says you should outline clear expectations during the board training process. You should also recognize each board member is an individual with different talents. If fundraising isn't someone's strong point, they still need to work on developing streams of revenue for the organization. However, there are "softer" ways they can "sell" the organization to their connections and friends. Instead of asking for a donation right away, board members can invite their friends to take a tour of the organization, attend an event, or even just meet for coffee to learn about the mission.
My other guest this episode was Rebecca West, who founded L.E.T.S. Play and works full-time for the nonprofit technology consulting firm TechBridge. Previously, Rebecca also worked with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce. Through all of these roles, she has seen the best and worst volunteer committees.
I asked Rebecca what components made of the most successful committees she's worked with in the past, and here were some of the biggest factors she named:
- Having a great leader who is willing to take the charge, follow up with other committee members, and make sure everyone stays involved.
- Being clear about expectations before each committee member commits their involvement.
- If needed, having an outside consultant come in to offer a fresh perspective.
I also asked Rebecca about some of the pitfalls she has seen boards and committees fall into. The first ones she named were:
- Board members only hearing the perspective of one staff member of the nonprofit. If the Executive Director is the only staff member speaking about the day-to-day operations to the board, they may not understand the full picture.
- Not having new members enter the board on a regular basis. New members offer new connections, ideas, and energy.
- Having board members enter the board thinking they will come in and solve all the problems of an organization singlehandedly. Nonprofits should look for thought partners, as opposed to heroes.
If your organization is suffering from a dysfunctional board or committee, Rebecca recommends having honest conversations to identify board members who need to be removed. There are other ways they can remain involved, such as through an advisory committee or other volunteer opportunities. To avoid this problem in the future, boards should make sure they have reasonable terms for their members.
For more management tips for your organization, subscribe to the Nonprofit Jenni Show on your favorite podcast platform!