Fundraising,Leadership Published Date, 2022

Five Steps To Leverage The Board You Already Have

Created By: Maryann Grunseth
February 14, 2022

A few months ago, my colleague, Craig Shelley, shared his insights on how to begin the long and rewarding process of transforming a board. If you have the time and the need, board transformation is a worthy endeavor. Sometimes, however, there are a variety of organizational or strategic reasons that could make embarking on a board transformation impractical.

We all know that boards are an essential part of nonprofit leadership and success, but too often, ‘perfect’ becomes the enemy of the ‘good’ and we see organizations fail to optimize their current board members.

In an ideal world, your board should exemplify some of the best parts of your organization: they tie the organization to the mission, they demonstrate the organization’s expertise, and they lead the organization’s volunteers and fundraising. But if your board isn’t meeting those expectations, or is just in need of a level setting, here are several steps you can take to ensure you are getting the most out of the board you have.

  1. Have a frank dialogue about what the organization needs.

Make sure your board is attuned to organizational needs in the near- and long-term and clearly articulate where it is that they can step in. If you have a working board, this might mean a hands-on role in helping you craft your next strategic plan. For fundraising boards, it could mean supporting your team in developing your major gifts or corporate pipelines or helping to raise funds for a specific project.

  1. Invite board members to share their expertise.

If you don’t know what the best ‘ask’ of a board member is, or where they could or would like to add the most value to your organization, don’t assume. Ask them! Having candid and direct conversations about what a board member is interested in or where they can help you achieve your goals is a simple and effective way to reengage them. The bottom line is, most people prefer to do things that they are passionate about or skilled in. Engaging board members in a role or task that excites them is a great way to draw them in closer to the organization and build your relationship.

  1. Restructure Board meetings to be more action-oriented.

A sure-fire way to keep your board uninterested and unengaged is to present the same information to your board at each meeting. To develop more action-oriented and worthwhile board meetings, determine what can be sent in advance as a pre-read and what requires more context and should be shared or unpacked in the meeting.

Additionally, use this time to leverage the collective brain power of your board and help them ideate and problem solve with you. As a leader, this will add tremendous value to your work while also deepening the board’s connection to the organization and giving them a sense of ownership.

  1. Leverage board relationships to build consensus and make progress against your goals.

When engaging your board to problem solve or ideate, consider key relationships. If you are trying to tackle tough or controversial topics and are unsure whether this board is the right board to provide strategic advice, consider what specific asks you can make of them. In advance of board meetings, socializing key board members, chairs, or other influencers with your problem and your proposed solution will build consensus and lead to more productive conversations.

If you are trying to win over or at least temper a particularly difficult or unruly board member, utilizing board leaders is essential. Peer outreach can often be more direct than that of staff.

  1. Develop board report cards to encourage reflection and evaluation.

Board report cards are an excellent tool for tracking and reinforcing a board’s roles and responsibilities by reminding board members of their duties and holding them accountable. Board report cards should be introduced to a board in conjunction with a conversation around the board’s role in leading the organization. Elements on a board report may include the number of meetings attended, giving history, outreach metrics, and events attended, for example.

Whether or not your current board is ready to tackle your loftier goals, making small, actionable, and purposeful steps to leverage their leadership can push your organization in the right direction. Ultimately, cultivating authentic and candid relationships with your board members will allow you to maximize their skills, resources, and network for the advancement of your mission.

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