Want to take your nonprofit to the next level? Your board can help you do that. A strong nonprofit board offers insights and resources that help the organization solve complex problems and achieve bold goals.
However, recruiting smart leaders and planning productive meetings isn’t enough. Developing an effective board requires strategic engagement and consistent communication.
Your board members won’t be able to offer meaningful help unless your organization makes them feel connected, appreciated and informed. And for them to feel this way, you have to invest in thoughtful onboarding when they join your team and outreach throughout their time of service.
Each board member must understand how their strengths intersect with your needs. They require tools that allow them to share their passion for your work. And they need an authentic relationship with your organization that motivates them to roll up their sleeves when it matters most.
Build a Strong Foundation From the Beginning
Set clear expectations. Ask your board members for help with co-creating a board performance policy. The policy should outline the key ways you expect each member to support your nonprofit. Be explicit about how you would like them to use their resources to elevate your work. Include a copy of the policy in your board toolkit, explained below.
Provide a board toolkit. As part of on-boarding, give new board members the tools to understand and promote your work. Providing digital and print materials such as:
• Your nonprofit’s elevator speech
• One pagers on fundable programs
• Attractive and inspiring flyers and brochures
• Merchandise featuring your brand
• Social media content to share on their channels
Since social media is a key way for them to engage their networks, include social media tools such as suggested post copy, graphics and photos for social posts, profile cover photos, and profile frames. Give your board members content they can use throughout the year and special assets for holidays and campaigns.
Explain their role in your culture of philanthropy. Ensure that your board understands the importance of fundraising to your organization’s financial health and community leadership. Explain the key role everyone plays—including board members—in meeting your fundraising goals. When you share fundraising updates with them, emphasize the connection between your achievements and their individual efforts.
Build authentic connections. Create opportunities for your board members to build relationships with the people inside your organization. This will help them forge a deeper connection to your mission. It will also help them better understand various facets of your work.
Familiarize board members with the populations you serve. The best way to do this depends on the nature of your work, but board volunteering days can make a big impact, emotionally and intellectually.
When appropriate, invite them to staff activities like lunch and learn seminars, happy hours, or quarterly meetings. However, if your board will be in attendance, be sure to notify staff beforehand and give them background information on the members who will be there.
Keep Them Engaged Over Time
Develop a board communication plan. Map out an annual calendar that outlines when and how you’ll communicate with your board. This will ensure this key group of stakeholders doesn’t fall through the cracks as you reach out to key audiences. It will also keep you accountable to sending them regularly scheduled updates.
Don’t just share major announcements and board meeting materials. Reach out with compelling news and updates from across your organization. Your communications will keep them interested while also reducing any blind spots they may have about how you operate.
Create an email newsletter. Make an email newsletter one of the key communications in your board communication plan. Your board members are already accustomed to building and maintaining relationships via email, so use this important channel to share helpful tools and information with them. By repurposing your nonprofit’s existing communications when possible, develop a brief, attractive newsletter with content such as:
• Relevant news stories
• Recent press releases
• Top-performing blog posts
• Short, simple program updates
• Major fundraising achievements
• Expressions of gratitude (highlighted below)
Keep asking for input. Request your board members’ help when you see a connection between their resources and your needs. Just be sure your leadership team is aligned on the ask before you reach out.
For example, ask board members for help with donor identification and cultivation. Be open, letting them know that you would be grateful if they’d strategically reach out to any contacts who may have an interest in your cause. Invite them to participate in conversations with like-minded donors. They can strengthen your outreach to donors with similar backgrounds.
And if other opportunities come up where board members can make a meaningful difference, don’t be afraid to ask. If you don’t ask, they may not realize how they could be supporting you.
Honor and thank your board. Weave gratitude into all of your board communications. When new members join, proudly announce their appointments internally and externally. This will demonstrate your appreciation to new members, acquaint staff with the board, and elevate your organization’s thought leadership in the public eye.
Share success stories with your board often, connecting mission impact with their dedication and support. Help them see themselves among the heroes in your organization’s story.
Follow your board members online to stay in-the-know about what’s going on in their lives. Connect with them on LinkedIn and create Google alerts for their names so you don’t miss anything. Congratulate them on their accomplishments to show that you are invested in their success.
Commit to Invest in Your Board
An effective board helps a mission-driven organization reach new heights. But to build an successful board, you must develop cohesive communication and engagement plans.
It’s crucial to reach out to your board with transparent, informative and authentic communications. And you need to provide every member with tools and opportunities to share your work with their communities.
The good news is that if you invest in creating an environment where your board can thrive, you’ll also be helping your nonprofit’s mission thrive.