There are volumes written on staying engaged with your professional work, how to motivate employees, and communication in the workplace. That’s great for businesses, but how do nonprofits keep volunteer board members engaged in their work? Busy professionals who are donating their time to a cause want to do well in their board service, but they may need a little help. Here are some ways to keep them excited, involved, and effective with nonprofit board work all year round, even if they are remote or only meet quarterly.
Engage Board Members, Make It Personal
Humans are hard-wired to pay more attention to human faces than any amount of text or audio presented in a meeting. If many of your board members are remote or rarely meet in person, it is crucial to maintain that human element in your communication and meetings.There are a number of ways you can do this. Provide a people directory with everyone’s photo to help new members feel familiar with the other board members. If you have remote meetings, ask everyone to use their video cameras during the meeting. You might be surprised at how much this simple measure does to personalize the experience.
Create even more rapport by developing a buddy or board mentor system. Sometimes just the accountability of knowing even one person will be working with you on specific goals or looking for your attendance at the meeting is enough to get that extra effort from a board member. Additionally, it is a great opportunity for members to learn from each other and discuss how they can advance initiatives. This works especially well at knitting a geographically far-flung board closer together.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate to Your Board
Have you ever heard the advertising adage that a person needs seven impressions of your brand before it “sticks” in their mind? Obviously, you don’t want to bother your board members seven times about every initiative, but it is hard to underestimate the value of multiple nudges. Some board members will favor email while others may prefer to keep tabs on goals with your board portal. Regardless of the medium, don’t be shy about sending a variety of updates, reminders, and nudges for key deadlines. The first reminder might catch a board member at a busy time, but the second could allow them to take action on the goal.
It isn’t enough to just communicate regularly, however. It is also helpful to make the communication as specific as possible. Many people will ignore an email to the whole board, but it is much harder to sleep on an email that starts out with their name and has information specific to something that board member is working on at that time. Be sure to keep it balanced between reminders or asks and recognition or celebration. If every time you contact your board members it is to nag them about some initiative, they will quickly learn to dread (and eventually ignore) your communication. Everyone appreciates someone noticing their hard work and small successes. Get to know your board members well enough to know if they’d appreciate a public shout-out or prefer a personal note.
Progress Should Be Visible to Your Board
Similar to our propensity to react to human faces, people love visually scannable information when possible. There are two big advantages to this. First of all, with publicly visible graphs or charts, it is simple for your busy board members to glance at the dashboard and see how things are trending. You could send a three page report that no one has time to read, or you could provide three visuals that get eyes on them every time.
Second of all, visuals have a wonderful way of “gamefying” board service.Is it halfway to your big event and only a fraction of the tables are sponsored? Time to kick it into high gear. Are you just dollars away from reaching the campaign goal? Every board member wants to be the one that closes the gap. Celebrate progress and ask for help as transparently as possible with a real-time, visual representation of your goals.
Keep It About the Mission
We all know about creating “mission moments” in a meeting to keep board members in touch with the effects of their work. You can take this a step further to increase the connection. Have board members take turns every month reporting on a specific chapter or organization and some interesting results they’ve had in the recent past. Board members also feel more connected to something that they can articulate themselves. Research activities you can do with your board, such as practicing elevator pitches of why they’re invested in the organization, brainstorming sessions on the vision of the nonprofit, or interviewing each other about how they came to the organization and summarizing it in a sentence or two for the board. Not only do activities like these get board members thinking about why they volunteer their time for board service, it also offers great discussion material during meetings about the direction of the organization.
Connection Is Crucial
It can be a huge challenge to keep a group of perhaps spread out, busy, volunteer board members thinking about their board service between meetings. It’s not impossible, though. With some effort around building rapport, making information easily digestible, and motivating for progress, your board can stay a productivity machine all year long.
Boardable is an online board management portal that centralizes communication, document storage, meeting planning, and everything else that goes into running a board of directors.
Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.