Every nonprofit leader I’ve ever known has struggled at one point or another with how best to lead their board. Some people view their board with frustration, believing they’re holding them back. Others live scared of their board. Some see them as a necessary evil, but don’t really view them as a resource. However, a select few (and the ones I admire most) have found ways to use their board as a catalyst to keep the vision aligned and ultimately take their nonprofit to the next level.
I’ll be honest—over the years, I’ve always had highly supportive boards, but I didn’t always utilize them to their fullest potential. Looking back, that was a huge mistake.
Now, I get the opportunity to be on the other side of the table and sit on a few boards of other nonprofits who are doing amazing work. I watch how their leaders tap into my specific giftedness to help best move their vision forward.
I’ve been on both sides of it, and that’s one of the reasons I was so excited to recently sit down with Mike Hamilton, Executive Director of Show Hope, to interview him for our podcast.
Mike is a phenomenal leader who has worked with many boards over his career, and he had some valuable (and practical) tips to share with us when we asked him for advice on how to work effectively with a board:
1. Inform and engage your board
Your board is not a box to be checked. I’ve seen it over and over again, boards are treated as simply a list of names, meeting just for the sake of saying they did it. If this sounds like your board, you’re missing out on a huge resource and opportunity for growth in your organization.
To ensure your board is on board (sorry, I had to), make sure you’re communicating with them outside of your in-person meetings. They aren’t in the grind of the day-to-day work like you are, so how can you expect them to come prepared to a board meeting with appropriate context and information upon which to base their decisions? See how important this is for the success of your nonprofit?
Lesson: Find a way to aggregate information, at least monthly, to make sure they have a grasp on financials, operations, and new updates.
2. Capitalize on different skillsets
Be strategic in who you invite to be a part of your board. Do you know a lawyer who would be passionate about your cause? What about someone who has marketing expertise? Maybe a fellow nonprofit leader? Find people who can add value in ways that you can’t, and tap into their knowledge.
Lesson: Your board is essentially free counsel. Diversify the portfolio and you’re sure to have a more well-rounded operation.
3. Keep it fresh
Let’s face it: all boards get stale. It doesn’t mean that the members are worthless and hold no value to you, but it’s not uncommon that members slowly drift. Maybe he or she joined the board for a resume booster (ouch). Or maybe they thought they resonated with your mission, but slowly realized it wasn’t something they wanted to commit much time to (double ouch).
Regardless, if you’re in a rut with your board, it’s time to liven it up. Bring new opinions into the room. Set new expectations, and hit the ground running.
Lesson: Make sure your board is on fire for your cause and committed to helping make it thrive.
(Extra tip: If you don’t have term limits in your bylaws, consider adding those to help hold you accountable.)
4. Encourage monetary involvement
Every board member doesn’t have to be a major donor, but they should somehow play a part in the equation. Strongly encourage your board members to both:
· Use their network to generate more gifts
Don’t be afraid of setting this expectation. It’s important that this team shows their support monetarily if they’re helping make large decisions for its future.
If you’re interested in hearing more about working with your board, listen to our most recent podcast episode with Mike Hamilton. To give you some context, Mike worked as an Athletic Director of a large SEC school and later transitioned into helping lead organizations like Blood:Water and Show Hope. Quite the leap, huh? Not according to Mike. He has some incredible perspective and dives into some other interesting topics along the way.