Many development professionals are unhappy with the performance of their foundation board. Disengaged board members do not participate in fundraising, they do not attend meetings, or they promise they will help and do not follow through. If you are facing these types of situations with your board, you need to look at how you are engaging your board members in the fundraising process. The five critical factors to active board engagement include Comprehensive Orientation, Clear Expectations, Board Education, Assignments, and Engagement Evaluation.
Design a quarterly orientation curriculum that focuses on specific topics each session. The orientation will provide board members with an in-depth understanding of your mission and how your organization operates. By offering these orientation sessions quarterly, current board members can also be invited to attend if they are interested in a specific topic. Invite experts from your organization to cover important topics. The board will get to know the leaders and this will build credibility for your organization.
It is essential that all potential board members understand what the expectations are for their role as board members. Expectations include attendance at meetings, making a financial gift to support the mission, attending events, advocating for your organization, and inviting others to tour or visit your organization. Many organizations provide prospective and current board members with a document listing board responsibilities and expectations, and the organizations ask each board member to sign this commitment annually. By providing clear expectations there is a level of accountability on the board member’s part.
Provide specific education to the board at every meeting. Educate board members on projects and roles the board can play in raising funds for projects. Consider adding a “mission moment” to each agenda to share a story about the impact your organization is having in the community. Invite individuals who have benefitted from your services attend and share their story with the board.
Assign tasks to every board member. Whether it is making thank-you calls to donors, hosting an informal gathering at their home, or serving on a committee, these are all examples of tasks involving board members in. Make sure to let board members know who your donors are, so if they see the donors in the community, they can personally thank them for their support Assign realistic but measurable goals for each board member during the year.
When assessing current board engagement, it is helpful to have your nominating or governance committee meet with all board members on an annual basis to conduct an evaluation/self-evaluation. Yearly evaluations help to identify any gaps or address any areas that need attention. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss both the assessment and the self-evaluation. It also develops engagement goals for the following year. Evaluations take time and energy, but it also results in a more engaged board.
Developing an approach that works with your board is critical to achieving sustainable engagement. Finding which method works for your board requires an open mind and getting to know your board members on an individual basis. Results can include more opportunities for organizational networking and a more cohesive leadership with a unified vision—a victory for you, your board, and the organization as a whole.