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Avoiding a bored board: Tips for board engagement

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Whether your nonprofit has highly involved board members or board members that couldn’t give an elevator speech about your organization in a life or death situation, there’s always opportunity to look for new ways to keep board members actively engaged in a fun, fresh way.Begin by making sure that your nonprofit is continually working to help board members understand what connects them to the mission—much like you would do for a prospective donor. In an ideal world, board members became such because they were already connected to the mission of your nonprofit in some way, but that’s just not always the case. Go beyond giving them a basic rundown of the history, mission and programs you offer and frequently share stories and anecdotes about your nonprofit’s work and the differences your organization is making. Having a vested interest in an organization’s mission can only add to the level of engagement of a board member.Once board members can make a connection to your nonprofit’s mission, they’ll be better prepared to help others do the same. Take it one step further and give board members the tools to become ambassadors among friends and within the community. A great way to do this is to create ambassador kits for each board member.

Take a durable tote bag or professional-looking binder emblazoned with your nonprofit’s logo and fill it with:

  • Talking points or a slideshow script to present at community meetings or events that explain the mission, reach and efforts of your nonprofit.
  • USB drive, like the USB Memory Drive Key Tag, with a slideshow to accompany the script, along with images and logos for board members to use and share.
  • Agency literature and brochures to distribute.
  • Remit envelopes to collect potential gifts.

Stock board members with a few useful promotional items, too, like Bic® Round Stic Pens and Scratch Pads that they can leave with people. Not only are these kits a way for board members to take pride in their role, but they can also serve as the foundation for helping board members become more actively involved in development and more confident in attracting new donors.

Another idea for fostering engagement is to improve the board meeting experience. Board meetings can be long, and often times it’s the same ol’ meeting on repeat, but they don’t have to be like this. Spice things up:

  • Meetings don’t always have to be about decision making. Set some time aside for dialogue, too. Have conversations that help leadership understand how board members perceive the organization and its future. Discuss what’s important and the hits and misses of recent efforts as a way to loop board members in.
  • Get out of the typical board meeting setting—take a field trip. Bring board members to see the work and impact your organization has completed first hand and let them talk to audiences who have worked with your nonprofit. If your nonprofit is hoping to expand efforts, take board members to witness how this expansion would meet those needs.
  • Bring in an outside facilitator from time to time. This breaks up the meeting experience and helps to ensure that all board members are actively participating in decision making or dialogue, but it can lessen the opportunity for decisions to be swayed by those leading the discussion.
  • Have a special surprise waiting for them at each meeting that acts as both a gift and as a way to keep the decisions of the day top-of-mind after they leave. Go for something fun and unexpected, like a Pully Pal or a Yo-Yo.

Last but not least, harbor engagement by showing—time and time again—that board members and the time and effort they give are appreciated and valued. Send them thank-you notes and ‘tokens’ of appreciation in the form of chocolate coins.

Consider featuring each board member briefly in your newsletter, either as a “get to know our board” column or a “why I give” feature. Hold board appreciation luncheons or cocktail parties as a no-obligation board event.

Getting your nonprofit board to become active and engaged can be a fun and continuous process—one that is sure to benefit everyone in the long run. Engage away!

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