4 Ways to Leverage your Board to Grow your Nonprofit (beyond donations!)
Start with the basics:
Are you making the most out of your nonprofit board? For many nonprofits, their board solely serves the important role of ensuring that the activities and expenditures of the organization are in the best interest of its mission without any conflicts of interests.
In addition, board members are traditionally viewed as individuals who can bring funds to the table—whether their own or raised—to invest in the work of the nonprofit. While it’s important to be clear on the basics of what to expect from your nonprofit board, your nonprofit is missing out if you aren’t being more creative in leveraging your board members beyond governance and individual donations.
How can you leverage your board to grow your nonprofit
1. Tap their talents
Sure, you may recruit board members who have great skills and experiences, but are you taking full advantage of their unique abilities? Here are some tips.
• Be open about your challenges: Often nonprofits want to portray a positive picture of their organization at every board meeting, but it’s important to be open and honest with board members about projects that could use some additional guidance and input. They can’t offer to help if they don’t know you need it.
• Take time to understand their strengths: Just because a new board member is an accountant, doesn’t mean he or she has no other skills to bring to your organization. It’s even possible that the board member gets enough of using one type of skill at his or her day job and has joined your board hoping to use a different set of skills. Maybe the local business CEO on your board is more interested in contributing her graphic design skills than reviewing financial projections. Rather than assuming what a board member can help you with, ask!
• Define a time and place for them to help: A board meeting is not the only place to reap the benefits of your board members’ talents—often you need to create a dedicated time and place to tap their skills. For example, if 2-3 of your board members are employed in creative fields, invite them to a workshop on developing the new look and feel of your brand before announcing it to the full board. This way they can give the project the time and attention it deserves.
• Keep it transparent: When tapping board members’ talents, be sure that you are not violating any legal conflicts of interest, especially if they or their companies are performing any paid work for your organization.
2. Call on their contacts
Your board members' contacts—both personal and professional—represent a far-reaching ecosystem of individuals and institutions who can add value to your nonprofit. How can you tap into this network?
• Don’t be afraid to ask, but know when to hold back: Calling on your board’s contacts is a balancing act, and can quickly become ineffective if you lean too far in either direction. If you are too conservative in your ‘asks’, you will miss out on important opportunities and connections. If you ask too much of one person, or are always asking your most well-connected board member for help, he or she may become fatigued or worse, feel ‘used’ for his or her contacts.
• Propose mutually-beneficial partnerships: Ask your board members if they personally know any companies or organizations that may be interested in your work through a lens that is mutually-beneficial, rather than a one-way donation. For example, perhaps a board member’s child attends a local school that would be interested in making your nonprofit’s after-school programs available to students, increasing your pool of participants. Think creatively about how to leverage contacts beyond donations, and your chances of having donors ask, and having their contacts respond positively, dramatically increases!
3. Equip them to be influential advocates of your work
Your board members sit in monthly or quarterly meetings and hear about the state of your organization, but do they know enough about your work to champion it in their spheres of influence? Could they effectively and knowledgeably answer questions about your programs if someone asks them? If you’re not sure, try the following.
• Test their knowledge: Help board members understand their need to be better informed of the details of your work through a light-hearted quiz or exercise where they can guess key facts such as beneficiary numbers, which communities or areas you have programs in, and more. They don’t have to share their results (this could create tension!) but they will be able to see that they might not know as much as they thought.
• Give them tools to communicate: Your board members are an extension of your nonprofit in the community—make sure they have the tools to talk about it properly! Invite a communications or business development specialist from your staff to stop by during a board meeting and give a 30 minute refresher on your organization’s 5 minute elevator pitch. Not only will your board members be able to communicate more effectively about your mission, vision, and impact, they will be reminded that everyday conversations are opportunities to share your work and generate new reach and support for your nonprofit.
4. Highlight your board members to increase the credibility of your organization
So you’ve recruited an impressive list of board members representing a diverse array of experiences and backgrounds—awesome! Now, who knows about it? If your approach to sharing the story of your board is simply a list of names on your website, you may want to rethink your approach.
• Feature profiles of board members on your website: At the very least, your nonprofit should promote the dynamic, experienced individuals governing your organization by giving readers more than a name and title listed on your website. Include a photo, brief description, and even a quote from the board members about why they chose to get involved. Whether your board members are well-known in the community, or simply relatable to the public, promoting their identities and backgrounds increases the public’s trust in your work.
• Invite board members to speak out through your channels: Board members are uniquely positioned to speak about your work—invite them to write guest blog posts, speak at events, or simply share a quote that you can use in your next newsletter. People like to hear from board members because they offer an ‘outsider’ perspective of your work as someone who is not a paid staff member, and their enthusiasm for your work is supported by the fact that they contribute their personal time to serving on your board.
Remember, it’s not a one-way street
Your board members signed up for the job because they wanted to support your organization. But as the organization they are supporting, it’s important to balance your ‘asks’ with opportunities for rewarding engagement. Whether it’s through public recognition, connection time with beneficiaries, or fun events, make sure you give back to your board members for all they’ve given to you.