What Nonprofit Board Members Really Want

As nonprofit fundraisers, we are constantly asked about the number of volunteer hours contributed by board members, their financial gifts, and whether the board fund reflects “100% participation” – in short, what have the board members done for the organization?  Instead, let’s turn this question on its head and ask: “What has your organization done recently for your board members?”

The Board Meeting

The Board Meeting

Passion is a great thing, but it tends to be myopic.  Being passionate about our cause, we imagine that everyone else feels the same sense of urgency to address the injustice, or find the cure, that we do.  So it is reasonable for us to assume that our board members devote their time, treasure, and talents solely because they are moved by the nonprofit’s mission.  Indeed, it is important for board members to feel strongly enough about a cause to inspire others to join them in supporting it.  But that’s not enough. 

In her book The Truth About What Nonprofit Boards Want, June Bradham, CFRE cites data gleaned from interviews with elite board members around the world, and distills them into 9 “little things” that mattered to them most, when considering whether or not to join a board.  What is #1?  Not the charity itself, as you might think – it’s the current board members!  Top candidates will first look at your board list to see who else is on it: are there any friends or colleagues? any connections for their business? are these people with whom they have something in common and whose company they will enjoy? Armed with this knowledge, here are three, easy-to-implement steps that you can take right now, to build and maintain a solid and productive board.

First, boast about your board members whenever possible, especially on your website!  Houston-based nonprofit,  The Immunization Partnership (TIP), provides an excellent example of board member visibility.  As a resource for scientific, evidence-based data on immunizations, TIP helps families and healthcare providers keep informed about immunization issues in an effort to eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases through public and private partnerships.  By posting photographs and short bios of their highly respected board members on their website, TIP not only establishes the organization’s credibility in the community, but may entice other key professionals to become involved.

Second, provide time for your board members to socialize with one another.  Many nonprofits make the mistake of acknowledging how valuable their board members’ time is by shooing them out the door after board meetings!  If possible, schedule meetings at the end of the day when they can be open-ended and people won’t feel pressured by other appointments.  If that’s not possible, then schedule special gatherings at least quarterly to keep board members connected with one another as well as the organization.

Lastly, make your board meetings fun!  As Ms. Bradham writes, “Board giving follows a great board experience.”

Richard Beeman