Get Your Board Engaged in Making a Difference


All nonprofit organizations have experienced, at one time or another, the challenge of inspiring  Board members to engage—or re-engage—and help raise funds.

Let’s start by noting the obvious: the NPO’s chief executive would benefit by first taking a step back to identify possible reasons for lackluster engagement, particularly if a low level of engagement appears to be widespread among Board members.

That having been said, we will focus here on the three most important approaches for how to get your Board engaged in making a difference.

1.  Inspire them

Who typically joins NPO boards? The answer is, busy people with a special place in their hearts for the mission of a given nonprofit. If that is true, why do they need inspiration?

  • Board members often are people who are busy, sought-after members of their community. They may be experiencing personal or professional challenges that leave little room for focusing on the needs of your NPO.
  • Some Board members have served for years and allowed their initial passion to lapse into complacency.
  • Some Board members may be new to the position and afraid and/or unaware of what the role requires.

Here are ways to spark new passion:

First, have Board members meet and listen to stories of people who benefitted from your NPO’s work. Hold a little social gathering quarterly, or start each Board meeting with a beneficiary and his or her story.

Next, be sure to develop (or refresh) personal relations between the chief executive and each Board member. Learn what is going on in their lives in that moment. Connect their current interests and passions to your NPO’s mission. Once the relationship fires up, stoke it regularly.

2.  Keep them in the loop and keep asking for their ideas

Board members are the key stakeholders that care about your mission—but there always is competition for their time and attention.

Holding regular Board meetings—whether monthly, quarterly, or annually—is too infrequent in today’s digital age to keep your mission on their radar screens. Send your Board members weekly electronic updates that offer news, provide status reports, ask for ideas, and applaud their service. That will help keep their attention on the work your NPO is accomplishing. More important, including a specific request for their ideas for accomplishing your NPO’s current tasks will help Board members feel needed and useful—two reasons people join nonprofit Boards.

3.  Retrain, reassure, and repeat as needed

Board members are people first. They may fear fundraising or simply have no experience. Those who do have experience may not see a connection between their skills and your donor base.

Assess their readiness. Ask them how they feel about fundraising. Bring in an “expert” coach if needed. Share successful stories among the group.

By employing a positive, low-key approach, build their skills and confidence. That, combined with their new inspiration and feeling of engagement, will set your Board on a new course to increase your donor revenue.

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