This post is one in a series written by experts who will be presenting sessions at the 2015 BoardSource Leadership Forum taking place on November 9 & 10 in New Orleans. We invite you to join us.
Do you ever complain about your board members? Maybe they’re not giving as generously as you think they could. Or they’re not talking up your organization or asking their contacts to contribute time, in-kind gifts, money, or sponsorship.
What if they’re not the problem? Perhaps we haven’t been offering them good models to follow. Here are three things we can examine about our own behavior that might change theirs:
Are we treating our board members like major donors?
If our board members aren’t giving according to their capacity, it might be because we haven’t made the effort to cultivate a relationship that acknowledges them individually and deepens their connection to our cause. We can thank them more powerfully, with hand-written notes, personal phone calls, and verbal acknowledgements in person or at events. We can use their time more strategically at board meetings, and connect the dots between their service and the impact it’s having on end-users. Taking the time throughout the year to honor the myriad gifts they offer may lead to larger investments because they feel seen and heard and valued as part of the team. And they’ll see first-hand how to cultivate a relationship with a potential donor.
Are we engaging our board members in our work?
If our board members aren’t being compelling ambassadors, helping people in their circles embrace our cause, it might be because we haven’t helped THEM connect to our work. We can
- ask board members to write their own testimonials about why they care about the organization. They might struggle to articulate it, but it will be an insightful assignment, and they could see why asking others the same question could be a great engagement tactic.
- have them gather stories of the organization’s impact on end-users, to be shared at board meetings, in publications, in appeal letters or thank-yous. As they collect and share stories from people who have benefited, they’ll gain a deeper understanding of how we make a difference.
- invite them to participate in an in-the-trenches experience or behind-the-scenes tour with insider information from someone in your field or an elected official who champions your work.
- host a salon in someone’s living room where board members and other smart people wrestle with a troubling aspect of your issue
- offer them opportunities to share advice or expertise, or open a door to an in-kind gift of goods or services
Once board members see how rewarding it is to get closer to the mission, they’ll be more willing to invite others to get involved too.
Are we asking for their support in the most compelling way?
If our board members aren’t asking others for support, it might be because they don’t know what a good request looks or feels like. We often ask them all at once to make their annual pledges at a board meeting, depriving them of the joy and satisfaction of a well-planned personal conversation that centers on their alignment with the mission. Make sure each board member has been the subject of a skillful solicitation so he or she will be eager to offer others that same memorable opportunity.
When board members have been engaged in the mission, cultivated and stewarded artfully, and asked powerfully for their own personal gift, they’ll understand what it feels like to be a donor to our organization. As with all of us, they’ll repeat the behavior they’ve experienced. So see to it that what happens to them is intentional, strategic, personal, and respectful. Model the behavior you want them to exhibit and they’ll emulate it with others.