Is Your Board Bored?

Today’s blog post is written by Elise Rebmann, Renewals & Retention Manager, PatronManager. 

When I was starting out my career in non-profit arts management, I felt very intimidated by board members. At the time, these types of folks seemed very far away from where I was — just out of college with a new baby, and unable to comprehend being able to afford the $3000/year annual contribution required to be on their level. I pretty much lived in fear that if I messed up a board member’s subscription order somehow, I might lose my job.

As I gained experience and worked my way up in the non-profit world, however, I began to realize that board members are mostly just superfans of the work being done, regardless of their net worth or status. And for the most part, they are very approachable and kind people who are invested in the success of your organization. In fact, at one organization I worked at for a period of time, I was able to candidly ask some board members to introduce me to some of their personal acquaintances and business associates to help sell ads, with quite good success.

Certainly though, not every board member helped me with that project, and in fact, I recall that some members rarely showed up to board meetings at all. Looking back, I realized it was probably because they were bored. To be fair, there really wasn’t all that much keeping them engaged. Board meetings were made up of people reading reports and… not much else. Sometimes there was a nice food spread, but all things considered, these types of meetings tended to be dull — so people skipped them.

Ideally, your board members are your organization’s most loyal and vocal advocates in your community; some might even be your top donors. So while we’re certainly all busy with the ever important task of bringing in new patrons whilst keeping current ones coming back time and time again, we can’t put our relationships with board members on the backburner. Your board’s engagement can directly impact the success of your organization, so it is absolutely vital that you put in the effort to keep them active and engaged! Here are a few ways you can jumpstart this effort:

  • First and foremost, make sure your board members feel appreciated. “Thank you all very much for being here, we know you have busy lives…” is a fantastic way to open a meeting. Additionally, keep tabs on their lives outside of your organization’s walls; send a personalized card from your staff for their birthday and congratulate them on other professional and personal achievements that they share with you. Show them you care.  
  • Do your best to create a good vibe at board meetings. Play music as people arrive, switch up your presentation format and pepper in some storytelling (rather than just listing off data points), maybe even consider changing up meeting locations! Why not host a meeting on your mainstage?
  • Candidly ask your board for their thoughts and make sure they know their feedback and ideas are valued and appreciated.
  • Tap into your board members’ passion by keeping things centered around your mission! They are volunteering their time because they want to help your organization succeed, so remind them why they came to you in the first place.
  • Host social gatherings for your board members outside of your organization, and invite your staff and artists to come along! Stronger personal relationships between board members will only improve communication in the meeting room, and mingling with artists and staff members who are on the front line of your organization can help promote a sense of organizational community and camaraderie!

At the end of the day, your board is there to advise and oversee the health of your organization. The more engaged they are with your staff and the work you are doing (beyond the charts and graphs), the better they’ll be able to advocate for you in the community. So treat your board members well, and do your best to make sure they aren’t bored! If you want more information on the topic of board engagement, I encourage you to check out both Guidestar and the National Council of Nonprofits — each has terrific additional resources.

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