The word “intentional” has been coming up a lot in my conversations lately. In fact, it was the focus of three different meetings this week. Two of the meetings were with relatively new Executive Directors who were seeking advice on how to better leverage and engage their current board members to help fulfill the mission of their nonprofits. My answer to both leaders was “you must be intentional with your efforts.”
Nonprofit boards, if used correctly, can be a powerful resource for not only steering the organization, but developing and growing its reach, resources, and communitywide impact. Traditionally, nonprofits tend to focus heavily on recruiting the most prominent business and community leaders possible, who are passionate about the cause, have needed expertise to share, a large sphere of influence and the ability to contribute financially. While these are all important attributes, rarely do nonprofits find someone who is high on each chart, who has a strong connection to the cause, many years of experience, lots of time to volunteer, countless valuable contacts, and large sums of money to donate. So, knowing that your board is going to be all over the charts, so to speak, and filled with people who are extremely busy with their own priorities of family, career, faith, friends, etc., if you want to maximize your ability to leverage your board, it’s going to come down to how intentional you are with each one of them individually and as a group. In other words, if they’re just showing up to the board meetings, but there’s no intentional leadership or focus beyond that, you’re missing out on a powerful opportunity to make a difference and help your cause.
My personal recommendation to both nonprofit leaders was to schedule time with each board member individually. Ask why they chose to serve and continue serving the nonprofit. You’ll find some have a strong personal connection to the mission while others serve because they were asked by a friend. Knowing the motivation is important and many times, you’ll find powerful storylines you didn’t originally know existed. Ask what they consider their strengths and what they enjoy doing with your organization because those two things are not always the same. Ask about their sphere of influence and start mapping out who has the strongest relationships with your largest donors and prospective donors. Ask about their other commitments and board service, what assets they have access to, like camera equipment, trucks, or conference rooms, and then what ideas they have for improving board engagement and your nonprofit’s efforts. This information is extremely valuable and the time with each board member will also help inspire and strengthen your relationship with them.
Once you’ve sat down with each board member, set specific goals and action items for each of them individually and together as a group. Create regular “to do” lists that activate their skillsets, strengths, and sphere of influence, and keep them engaged and on point. Create regular opportunities to engage them experientially and ask them to invite others, who will serve as future volunteers and board members. The goal is for every interaction to become intentional, so you can fully maximize everyone’s time and service to make a difference.