Seven Simple Things to do Right Now to Increase Board Engagement

Nonprofit boards can be hard.  And leading this group of essential volunteers can feel like herding cats.  A long-term board engagement strategy is always my best recommendation.  But in the short run, here are few tips to help board chairs get started on the journey. 

1) Read your mission statement out loud:  At. Every. Single. Meeting.  It’s what you do and why.  Keep this mantra central to your board’s activities.  (Hint:  Put the mission statement on the agenda—so it’s readily available—and ask a different board member to read it at each meeting.)

2) Establish a wish list:  Create a list of non-cash items your nonprofit needs and print it at the bottom of your agenda.  A new filing cabinet?  A wheelbarrow? A better fridge for the break room?  Offering your board the opportunity to give small, in-kind gifts can foster the habit of giving and could be a segue for larger gifts later.

3) Openly thank board members at board meetings:   If a board member has done anything for your organization, from a $1million gift to a phone call introducing a new vendor, thank them out-loud in front of the group.  This not only makes sure your board member feels appreciated, but it also reinforces the board behavior and culture you need.

4) Start each board meeting with a mission moment:  A mission moment is a quick, 3-minute insight into your organization.  Maybe a short I-phone video showing your clients being cared for?  An in-person testimonial? A brief presentation and one-page hand-out by the staff member in charge of the summer children’s program? (Hint: Don’t let in-person presenters sit down, or they may stay too long. Instead usher them in and out on cue and let them speak standing up.) 

5) Call on quiet board members:  Sometimes wisdom does not come from the loudest voice in the room.  When the discussion is being dominated by one or two individuals, turn to another attendee and say something like, “Terry, you haven’t weighed in yet.  I’d like to know what you think about this.” 

6) Put hidden messages in reading materials: Nothing like a little positive reinforcement to encourage board members to read their email attachments.  My favorite is to insert, “Shhh, don’t tell, but the first three people to email me get a prize at the next board meeting.”  Sure, it is rather silly.  But when you stop the next meeting to hand out Snickers bars to those three who contacted you, everyone will take note.  (Hint:  This only really works a couple of times per year.)

7) Thank your board members for being there:  Board members are volunteers who give their valuable time to attend your meeting.  They could have been doing a thousand other things.  Appreciate board members as a group for their participation at the conclusion of every meeting.  If possible, individually shake their hands (or make another Covid-safe gesture) as they leave the room.

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