Your nonprofit board is made up of passionate individuals who want the best for your organization and will do everything in their power to get you there. Having an effective decision-making board can strengthen a nonprofit in many ways. Overall, these individuals aim to ensure your organization has adequate resources to advance its mission and steer you toward a sustainable future.
However, without proper guidance, they may fall short of expectations. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic creating unprecedented challenges, developing a high-impact board is easier said than done.
At Boardable, our goal is to simplify board management and amplify an organization’s impact in the community. We believe nonprofits can equip their boards with the tools and resources they need to succeed. To help guide your efforts, we’ve compiled a few steps you can take when revitalizing your approach. Consider the following best practices for building an efficient board:
- Establish a strong communication strategy.
- Make the most of every meeting.
- Proactively measure progress toward goals.
- Implement board management software.
Empowering your board is essential for boosting productivity and helping the team operate at optimal capacity. Ready to learn how to build a high-impact board for your organization? Let’s get started!
1. Establish a strong communication strategy.
One of the most important aspects of a high-impact nonprofit board — and also one of the hardest to get right — is communication. It’s frustrating when board members don’t communicate or do so poorly, because ineffective communication makes it hard to get anything done. Information has to be continually repeated, and meetings often don’t feel worthwhile. That’s why developing a communication strategy is so important.
Establishing a culture of open communication plays a major role in the productivity of your nonprofit’s board. Consider these strategies to establish an open line of communication from the get-go:
- Learn communication preferences. As an administrator, you should take the time to learn each individual’s communication style. For instance, older board members might appreciate phone calls, whereas younger ones might prefer emails or even text messages. Make note of their preferences for quick reference.
- Ask for feedback. Give board members a chance to voice their opinions, whether for serious decision-making or something more light-hearted like a t-shirt design for an upcoming virtual event. If possible, allow them to give this feedback anonymously, so they feel as though they can speak more freely. Once you receive responses, read through all the suggestions and consider how they can help you improve your board members’ experiences.
- Address issues as they occur. When miscommunication does occur, it’s important to address it quickly and effectively. Getting to the heart of the matter as soon as possible helps prevent resentment among board members. From here, create a plan for avoiding these mistakes in the future, and over time, this will lead to healthier communication.
Effective communication is important both during and in between meetings. That’s why it’s important to keep the conversation going with virtual communication. Now more than ever, organizations have to rely on digital communication methods to sustain operations with social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders in full effect.
While virtual communication is essential for surviving the pandemic, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Prepare for any scenario by learning what other elements should be at the forefront of your sustainability plan during COVID-19 with this guide.
2. Make the most of every meeting.
Your board members are busy people with other major priorities in their lives. This means that time together must be maximized to the fullest extent, no matter if you’re communicating in-person or virtually. Otherwise, you may have a hard time getting and keeping members on board.
After selecting a time that works for as many members as possible, here are some tips that your team may want to try out to keep your meetings focused and efficient:
- Create an agenda well in advance. By creating an agenda with clear discussion points and goals, your meetings will be much more productive and will convey that you value and respect members’ time. Be sure to digitally distribute copies in advance so that attendees can review it beforehand and then come prepared with their thoughts and statements.
- Encourage participation. If someone has an effective idea, the last thing you want is for them to feel as though their voice isn’t heard. Make sure everyone speaks at the beginning of the meeting to create an atmosphere of openness. That way, everyone will feel comfortable and jump in when necessary.
- Use video conferencing tools for virtual board meetings. Face-to-face interaction is a fantastic way to boost engagement, especially if members are unable to meet in person. Video chatting with remote attendees creates a more immersive environment and is a great way to prevent feelings of exclusion, too.
Effective meetings are the key to high-impact boards. Implementing these strategies can help your board members use their time together more efficiently and think outside the box. This way, you can promote organizational growth and take your fundraising to the next level.
3. Proactively measure progress toward goals.
We need to recognize that board members are volunteers, many of whom may have little experience with this type of position. Because of this, it’s important to put forth clear expectations and goals from the start, then measure progress towards those goals as you go along.
This may seem like a major task at first, so here are some tips for creating goals and measuring progress toward them:
- Set reachable goals. Start by setting aspirational but achievable goals. For example, you might set goals for fundraising, supporter retention, or some other measurable objective. Look at your organization’s past performance in addition to the current performance of similar organizations to get started.
- Ask for input. If you’re struggling to come up with actionable goals, it’s always a great idea to turn to your board members for creative ideas. Not only will they appreciate that their voices are being heard, but they’ll also be much more motivated about a project they helped create.
- Delegate tasks. Whenever you create a goal, you need to develop actionable steps for getting there. Divide tasks up reasonably among members. If each individual feels they’ve been given fair and reasonable responsibilities, they’re much more likely to feel energized about doing their part. With too many responsibilities, they may become overwhelmed.
- Follow up. Once you’ve assigned tasks, it’s important to not let them fall by the wayside. Remember that members have roles and responsibilities outside of their participation in your organization, so make sure you actively follow up on incomplete tasks. That way, you can keep the ball rolling and motivate each individual to stay on top of their game.
If your board is lacking focus, this might be because there aren’t any clear goals or expectations put in place. Setting goals gives board members a long-term vision and helps them organize their time and resources to continue supporting your organization’s endeavors.
4. Implement board management software.
Building an impactful board takes a careful approach. To accelerate the process, consider investing in board management tools.
Board management software can streamline operations by improving communication between board members, making meetings productive, and helping your team stay on track with its goals. When searching for the right solution, there are a few features that you should keep your eyes peeled for, including:
- Virtual meeting capabilities. Especially with social distancing guidelines preventing in-person meetings, it’s important that your board can interact remotely. Make sure that you can hold virtual meetings with live video capabilities. So that your remote meetings are interactive and efficient, explore Boardable’s tips for hosting a successful virtual board meeting.
- Agenda builder. To make your meetings as productive as possible, look for software that lets you quickly build your own digital agendas with well-designed templates. Your tools should also allow you to quickly and easily share your agenda with board members and take minutes during your meetings.
- Task manager. So that you can stay on top of your goals, you’ll need a way to assign tasks and measure progress, both during and outside of meetings. This helps you determine what steps need to be taken so that your board can increase productivity and reach its goals.
- Polling and voting features. Feedback and participation in important decisions is an important part of board member engagement. Make sure your software offers polling and anonymous voting features so that you can develop active, contributing board members.
The best nonprofit board management software will also offer the above features for mobile users, so members can participate in discussions and important decision-making no matter where they are.
Remember, the right tools will help shape your nonprofit’s board into an effective force for good governance. Be sure to take time in selecting a solution that suits your needs using the tips above, and you’ll set your team up for success! Start your research off on the right foot with this membership software guide by Double the Donation.
Invigorating board members and maximizing their engagement isn’t something your team should overlook. Now more than ever, organizations need to take a proactive approach to building an effective team so that they can overcome the obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Use the tips covered in this article, and you’ll be well on your way to creating an impactful, motivated board!
About the Author
Jeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.