By Molly Hansen and Laura Edman
During our recent webinar Getting the Most from Your Board: It’s a two-way street we had several questions from participants that we weren’t able to answer before the webinar ended. We’d like to share those questions – and our answers – with you here!
Q: Our board members are really busy people and never seem to have enough time to devote to our organization. How do you deal with that?
A: Be sure your meetings happen when the most board members can be there and change the day and/or time if needed. Be careful that board members don’t overcommit and sign up for too many activities or responsibilities. Think about how many meetings you have and cut back on unnecessary meetings or offer remote attendance options (video/phone).
Q: Our board attendance is really low. How can we encourage better attendance?
A: Be sure that your meetings are productive and really well-run. They should start and finish on time. Include key decisions and action items and discussion of strategic issues on the agenda, not just a bunch of reports. Include a “mission moment” that helps educate and inspire board members.
Q: What can we do to find and recruit really great board members?
A: Ask your current board members and your key staff for their ideas; share the job description and key characteristics you’re looking for with them so they know the kind of people you’re looking for. Review your donor list and consider people who are very loyal and/or generous donors. Review board lists from other successful not-for-profit organizations in your area and see if there is any overlap with your donor list. Once you’ve identified some great prospects, treat the recruitment process as strategically as you would a major donor approach.
Q: How do you “back track” with board members who came on the board with different expectations than the newer board members?
A: Meet with them 1-on-1 to explain the current expectations and why they are different than when they joined the board; find out if/why they are resistant to the current expectations; work with them to slowly “adopt” the current expectations. If all else fails, practice the “bless and release” strategy and also find another way for them to stay involved and engaged with your organization.
Q: If we want to set a minimum giving threshold for board members, what’s a good rule of thumb for how to set the actual dollar amount? And then, how do we communicate that minimum?
A: Minimum giving thresholds are complicated issues for nonprofits to consider. It depends on the size and mission of the organization. I know a major theatre that has a $50,000 “give and get” policy and a social service agency that has a $500 threshold. We recommend that all board members make a personal gift even if they have secured a contribution from their business. If there are community members on the board who have very limited means, we recommend that they give to the best of their means, at a level they would consider generous – even if it’s $5. The time to communicate this is in early recruiting conversations and include it in documented board expectations.
Q: What do you think about the pluses and minuses of users of your services being on the board. For example, for a school, what about parents of current students. Or for human services, what about an under-resourced person receiving your services?
A: It makes sense in many organizations to have what we often call ‘community members’ on boards and with some nonprofits they are required by their bylaws to have a percentage of their board comprising people who use their services, or live in the neighborhood.
Q: What is your opinion on board term limits?
A: We believe in term limits – even if it’s three three-year terms. Term limits require a disciplined and strategic approach to board development. Term limits bring additional talents and perspectives to the table. They allow organizations to “bless and release” underperforming board members. And, term limits recharge the batteries of the full board with new faces, new connections and new ideas. We recommend dividing the board into ‘classes’ and staggering terms. And be sure to keep engaged people involved after they rotate off through chairing or serving on committees – then invite them to re-join after the appropriate period of time.
Q: How do we get access to Board material samples that you mentioned?
A: You can download our full Board Toolkit here.
Q: What are some of the best online/free sources we can use to research potential board members?
A: We invite you to mine your donors for good board members: look for the donors who have given over many consecutive year and/or who are most generous. If they aren’t interested in your board, seek their advice on identifying new board members. Sit down with your current board members and do a relationship diagram or mapping exercise with them. Download: Relationship Mapping
And finally, consider these online tools:
If you have another question for us about how to get the most from your Board, send an email to either Molly Hansen, Vice President (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Laura Edman, CFRE, Vice President (email@example.com).