My goodness. I’ve been to so many major gift meetings lately with non-profits who tell me their board meetings are a complete drag. “It’s like we’re all just going through the motions and no one really wants to be there,” one development professional told me. “Why are we even meeting? Nothing seems to get done anyway. We’re languishing.”
Any of this sound familiar to you?
I hope not, but I’m afraid it’s pervasive in the non-profit community. In the best of worlds, your board members are your biggest advocates, strongest financial supporters and connectors to others. There is almost nothing more amazing then seeing a board that is on fire! But it’s deadly if your board is, well, …bored.
If your board needs a spark, a stoking of the embers to get the fire roaring again, I have some ideas for you. They come under the headings of Inspiring, Exciting and Directing your board. If you can do these three things with your board of directors, good things will come to your major gift program and organization.
When we are in “recruiting mode” for board members, many non-profits do a really nice job of inspiring potential candidates with their mission. They tell great stories, give tours of programs, and let recruits see first hand how the organization is making a difference.
However, when the board member signs on, something changes. No one hears stories of lives or situations changing anymore. Instead of seeing first hand the good work of the organization, all of a sudden board members are buried in financial spreadsheets and by-laws.
Yuck! Get me out of here.
Now, of course those things are important, but try to consider adding some of these things into your agenda to keep the fire burning:
- Start each board meeting with a heart-touching video or story that could only happen because of your organization.
- Bring in people who have been affected by your organization to tell their story first hand. There will not be a dry eye around that large boardroom table. For example, if your organization works with young children, bring someone in who has “graduated” from your organization and is now leading a productive life. No one in that room will leave unaffected.
- Bring in a program person to tell board members what it’s like on the front lines and have that person tell the board why they are so desperately needed.
- Bring in the Development Director to tell a great story of a donor. Express how the donor’s life has been changed through giving. This will lead to so many great questions from board members.
Okay, you’ve got the idea for inspiration. Now let’s turn to:
I’ve been on a number of boards and there is nothing worse than sitting through two or three hours of minutiae that doesn’t have to be discussed with 15-20 people sitting around a table. All the boring stuff should be accomplished beforehand in committees for people who like the boring stuff. (Okay, I’m biased, I don’t like the HR or grounds committee, but some people love it.) Bring the highlights to the board meetings. Committee chairs make the case and the whole board votes. Done. Next subject…
I really think the goal of the Executive Director and the Board Chair is to figure out, before the board meeting, how they can make that board meeting as exciting as possible. Why? Because everyone else’s board meetings are awful and if you’re meeting rocks you’ll have no problem recruiting good board members. Here is what it’s going to take:
- Do all the work in committees—This is where everything should be happening. And the committees can be both functional (finance, development, HR, etc.) and project driven, (Where do we build the next shelter? How can we expand the school? How do we partner with more countries in building water wells?) All of those “projects” can be committees that have a short life span. Then, you’re done and you go onto something else.
- Keep the actual board meeting to 1 hour. Yep, you heard me. If you’ve ever been a board member yourself, how often have you dreaded going to a meeting because you know it’s going to go forever and be a total snooze fest? Exactly. If you have everyone doing the work in the committee, and you’ve passed on all the information board members need prior to the meeting, this should be doable.
- Make sure you have term limits—Oh my goodness, how many boards do you know with members with 10, 15 and even 20 years of service? Let God bless them…then bless them right out. Seriously, this is why term limits are so important. If you have an exciting board, people will WANT to be on it anyway. Keep it fresh.
Do you understand what I mean about exciting? Good. Finally, let’s turn to being directive.
One problem I see with non-profit leadership is that they think the board should be “just doing stuff” for you. Then, everyone gets all uptight because no one is doing stuff. The non-profit staff is frustrated and the board members are either lost or angry because they are not sure what their role really is.
I was talking to one organization a few months ago about a major gift development committee meeting and they said everyone just sat around talking about the last football game because no one had anything to report on. Eventually, after about 45 minutes, committee members started packing up and said, “See you next month.”
Next month? What are people even working on? No one knew and no one gave direction.
To all you non-profit leaders and board chairs out there: YOU HAVE TO GIVE BOARD MEMBERS DIRECTION!
Yes, they are so willing to help, but the vast majority of board members want to be told how they can help you. Just like asking the donor for a gift, ask your board member to take on something specific. And when you do that, guess what? They do it! It’s an amazing thing that happens. People, in general, want to be told what to do. If you can give clear direction with solid outcomes and due dates, you will see action. Without those, you will only witness floundering.
So there you have it. Inspire, Excite and Direct your board into greatness. Everyone wins!