“It’s not about a notebook or a checklist,” explains Audrey, a nonprofit CEO with super board engagement. “Most of our board members serve on many boards. They expect a notebook and a checklist of their responsibilities.”
So, what is board engagement? The best board engagement happens when your board members apply their best gifts—skills, and thinking—to provide unique value to your organization.
Let’s go back to Audrey. She builds board engagement individually. She asks members, “What things have you enjoyed doing when you served on this or other boards?”
What board members like is your starting point, too. Listen to the answers, take notes, and brainstorm with your board chair or staff on ways to invite each member to do more of what they enjoy. It’s a bit like Marie Kondo’s approach to tidying. You guide your board members to activities that spark joy and fulfill the organization’s needs.
If you want your board members to love serving, take this further. Uncover their favorite activities and direct them to them. Why? To go beyond what members like so you can tap your board members’ favorite professional activities. What makes them light up?
One CPA board member answered, “I love when I get to figure out messy financial situations and my clients get the information they need to make solid financial decisions.”
Later that year, the CEO called the CPA: “I need some accounting help, and I think my request is up your alley. As you know, we’re taking over an existing program and can’t figure out how to get their records to mesh with ours–so we know what’s going on. Can you help?
Over the next several weeks, the two conferred about the acquisition. Amid one discussion, the ordinarily stoic member gushed, “I’m having so much fun.”
Activities people love to do—not forms or checklist completion or even things they enjoy—create the best board engagement. And, when it comes to your nonprofit board, you want the best, don’t you?
At this point, you’re probably thinking, this is all well and good, Karen, but I need my members to do tasks that are well, just plain work. First, understand that assignments that are a slog for you are not so for others.
Furthermore, board members who get to do what sparks joy more readily put up with tasks that “come with the territory,” such as reviewing reports. (Remember how people prepare for Thanksgiving every year. They spend days shopping, cleaning the house or traveling, and dealing with crowds to create or participate in a festive meal.
When it comes to board engagement, ask your member to fulfill more than their obligations. Tap your board’s talents, skills, and passions to add the value you need at your nonprofit. To engage your board members, to paraphrase The Godfather, “Make them offers they can’t refuse.”
Engaged board members:
The best board engagement is not easy, but the outcome is invaluable.
Karen Eber Davis Consulting guides executive directors and CEOs to generate the resources, boards, and support they need to make remarkable progress on their missions. As the award-winning thought-leader, advisor, and founding principal of Karen Eber Davis Consulting, Karen helps nonprofit leaders get answers, generate revenue, and grow their mission. Davis is known for her innovation and practicality based on her work with or visits to over 1,000 nonprofit organizations and her experience leading board and team events. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.