20 Ways to Involve and Motivate Board Members

How do you motivate your members to do what few board members really want to do: raise money? I know you want that new board member to be a fundraiser, but unfortunately that is probably the last thing they want to be. So what are some techniques to get board members to view raising money as equally important as any other activity they are required to do?

To start off with, it is important to recognize why people join non-profit organizations and what causes them to be fully functioning and effective board members. People join non-profits out of a passion for the issues or cause, personal experiences or because someone they know asked them to join. Whether they will become effective board members is a whole other issue, but can sometimes be determined based upon these factors:

  1. Whether or not they feel the organization is using their skills and talents effectively. Make sure you get to know each board member in terms of how they want to use their time, talent and expertise.
  2. If they feel the organization is making a difference in the community.
  3. Do they feel they are learning and growing with the organization? People join organizations to learn new skills and to develop other skills. Make sure you’re creating opportunities for this personal growth and education.
  4. Do they enjoy working with the other board members? Relationships between and among board members are key. Make sure you are developing a “community” with your board members. Have meetings around food; go out to dinner with them; have the board president invite them over to their home once a year, etc.

The following are some tips for motivating your board members:

  1. Personalize the relationship with your new board members. The relationships between the executive director, the board president, and the new board member are key. Make sure these people spend time monthly (at least during the first three or four months) together to make the new board member feel special, to clearly identify their skills and role(s), and to motivate them to “hit the ground running.”
  2. Mission is key. Motivating board members takes time, energy and effort. But the bottom line is this: the new board member needs to fully understand and value the impact you make in the community. It is critical for the first six months to involve the board member in as many programs and activities as possible. Invite them to sit in at a community meeting or take them with you to some appointments. Invite them to visit your facilities and meet the staff.
  3. Conduct yearly retreats. Once a year, the board should get together at a secluded location for a weekend or an even just a day and “pull back” from the monthly business of the organization. On these retreats, members can bond with each other, attend some educational programs, and discuss the future of the organization together.
  4. Set high expectations early. People rise to the level of expectations we set, so set the bar HIGH – expect perfection. And remember, people get into patterns early – you really only have three or four board meetings to engage them otherwise they will not expect much from their participation.
  5. Board meetings are show time! This is the one time during the month (if you meet monthly) that you need to pull it all together and really think strategically about what you want to accomplish and how you want to come across. This is “show time” for the internal organization. These are some strategies I find work:
    • Have a 15 minute intellectual session with food. If I want people to do something for the organization, I need to feed them first. Feed them with food and intellectual stimulation.
    • Start and end the meeting on time and have a written agenda with timelines. Try to keep the meetings to no more than 90 minutes.
    • It’s important to demonstrate your impact. Bring in clients or program participants to speak at the meetings every few months.
    • Mission is front and center—make sure you always keep the mission of the organization central to policy and program discussions.
  6. Interview board members yearly. Interview board members in teams of two every year to find out how the person is feeling about the organization, how much time they have to contribute, and what they want to learn and do with their time.
  7. The executive director managers the board. The executive director manages and organizes the board rather than leads the board. It is proper for the CEO to lead the staff, but the board will never develop if she/he also leads the board. When I observe board meetings, I can usually tell if the board ‘owns’ the organization, by how much time the executive director talks at the meeting.
  8. Form a care and feeding committee. Form a small board committee and call it the “Care and Feeding Committee.” This committee will look after the issues of board recruitment, orientation, and development. The chair of this committee should be someone who is good with human relations and can identify dynamics at the board meetings such as: who is talking too much, who needs to talk more, and how to involve everyone.
  9. Collect personal information. Collect dates of your board members’ birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events and acknowledge them with cards. When a board member is mentioned in a newspaper article, or receives an award, make sure everyone on the board knows about it. Publicly recognize and keep track of your board members’ life activities.
  10. Have a party! Board members should each host a party once a year. Board members need to feel like a small community of like- minded people bonded in their sense of purpose for the organization they represent. Get- togethers help this process of “community building.”
  11. Ask for money in teams. When meeting with a donor to ask for money, both the CEO and a board member should attend the meeting. If the board member does not feel comfortable asking for money DON’T put them in a position to do the ask. Ask them to arrange the meeting, and go with you, but you will do the ask.
  12. Set yearly financial goals. Let the board decide how much each one of the board members will be required to either give or raise for the organization, then help the board member individually design a strategy to raise the money.
  13. Set aside time for strategizing. Devote time during a board meeting to focus on developing a strategy to obtain donations – don’t just report on past events or activities. Use this time to distribute a list of contacts of individual prospects, companies or foundations to see if board members know prospective contacts or trustees at foundations or have a relationship with a potential donor. Develop these relationships with help from board members.
  14. Share corporate sponsorship packages. Show your board members your sponsorship packages and ask for input and edits. Take them with you on appointments when seeking sponsorships for your special events.
  15. Give the board clear programs/projects/events. Develop a one page sheet that your board can use to solicit funds/in-kind donations from people and corporations. These are the “talking points” for your leadership.
  16. Provide training. Train your board on how to obtain donations. Have new board members shadow older/expert solicitors to see how they request donations.
  17. Create a contest. This would be for board members who attend Chamber of Commerce, Rotary meetings and other outside functions. Offer an incentive (recognition at a board meeting) for the member who collects the most prospects for the month at an outside event.
  18. List contacts. Use a board meeting to have members write down 10 names of prospects they know. Ask board members to write a special note or email to these individuals asking for a donation. Each year “target” 25 prospects that you will be cultivating to become major donors by the end of the year.
  19. Use newer technology. Scan your 501c3 letter and other documents (e.g., marketing materials) so that board members can send requests for corporate gifts and donor gifts from their colleagues via email.
  20. Thank donors personally. Ask the board to make thank-you calls to all your new donors. Have them ask for feedback from your donors.