25 Aug 8 Ways to Win Favor with Your Non Profit Board of Directors
Tips from Over a Decade of Working With Non Profits
Well over a decade ago, a newly forming chamber of commerce hired me to direct the founding, mission and work of their new organization. Fresh out of college, I had no idea how to lead an organization or a board of directors. I still often wonder what I said that convinced some very well-educated business leaders to trust me with this project.
I led that organization for five years. We increased membership and event attendance. We also set in motion a vision for the community that others have taken and turned into reality. Since then I’ve worked with other organizations to build their non profit marketing plan, and their board of directors plays a big part in how well the organization succeeds in fulfilling its mission. For Executive Directors who are struggling to create buy-in from your board for a project, here are eight ways to tip the scales in your favor.
- Start with trust. You MUST start here. If your board doesn’t trust you, you’ll get no where every time. How exactly do you build trust? Do what you say you’ll do. Be prepared for board meetings. Don’t allow a problem to sneak up on the board. Contact your board president, work out how best to approach the board about a problem, and send out an email ahead of board meetings. You don’t want board members to hear about problems from anyone but you.
Engage your board. If you’ve developed a well-rounded board, they will have experience and contacts that might help you better prepare your proposal. Talk one-on-one with board members you think could offer ideas, suggestions. Involved board members are more likely to support your pitch when you make it. In essence, you’ve “salted the tip jar” a little. (A word of caution here: If your board President is against your proposal, don’t go behind his or her back to get approval from other board members. Be transparent about who you’ve involved and why. This goes back to #1.)
Link the project to your organization’s mission. Fifty percent of board members join a non profit board of directors in order to do some good in the world. They chose your organization because they are likely passionate about the work. When you are growing a non profit, you must keep the mission in mind. If your project doesn’t move the needle toward achieving your organization’s mission, you don’t need to be doing it. If it’s administrative work, find a link to the mission. How will implementing this project allow your organization to better accomplish other goals?
Know your board members’ priorities/passions/skills. When you’re deciding which board members to engage (#2) think about each members’ skills, knowledge and passions. Who is most likely able to help or who will want to help? Who will have the connections or experience you need? You’ll learn this from reading their social media profiles, looking at the companies for whom they work and listening to them talk during board meetings. Knowing this information ahead of your pitch allows you to contact the right people at the right time.
How will it affect your budget? Before any non profit organization takes on a new project, the board wants to know how the organization will pay for it. If it requires additional fundraising, be prepared with a plan. Don’t expect to poach from other programs.
Be prepared. What questions will your board ask? Who is mostly likely to support the idea or oppose the idea? Why? Write out any objections and questions you expect. Talk to others who have implemented similar programs and ask about objections or questions their board raised. Answer all those in your proposal to the board. The more prepared you are to pitch the idea to the board the more confident they will be in your ability to manage the project well.
Make your board comfortable. We all work better when we’re comfortable. Too hot and tempers flare. Too cold and people are likely to be distracted by their discomfort. Don’t discount the benefit of pitching to a happy crowd. Offering light snacks may also increase your board comfort. People loosen up, talk more and interact more when they are “breaking bread” together.
Keep them updated. Create a work plan and keep the board updated. You’ll build trust because the board knows you can take a project, create a plan and follow throught. Your board won’t need to micromanage because they’ll trust you to keep them updated. When you’re ready to propose a project of your own, your board will have confidence you’ll follow through, ask for help when it’s needed and keep them updated.
Working with a board has its challenges, but you both have the same goal: to see the organization achieve its mission. Together you can change your community and lives.