Beyond Orientation – 6 Steps to Retain Your Nonprofit Board Members

Beyond Orientation – 6 Steps to Retain Your Nonprofit Board Members

Last week’s webinar has sparked so much interest that I’m writing a short summary of the key points for you this week. If you’d like the recording of the full webinar, email me and I’ll send it to you. These 6 steps are based on what I’ve experienced and witnessed over many years with all types of nonprofits. It addresses the most common question I get about boards from staff and volunteers across the country –“How can I get my new nonprofit board members to stay engaged for the long term?”

We know it takes some work to get it right, so you may want to be reminded of what the benefits are of having an involved board.

Here’s why you want to get it right:

* No more wasting time chasing down board members or constantly being on the search for new ones because you have a revolving door of board members who keep leaving!
* There are more trusted advisers to help you make the best decisions
* There are more ambassadors telling the story of your good work in the community and building connections
* You’ll raise more money with this strong team!
* Your stress level will be reduced because there is less to worry about
* At the end of the day, you will have greater mission achievement, which is why you exist in the first place.

All of this I know firsthand. But you must trust the process and give it time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Here are the 6 Steps To Retain New Board Members

1. Get them involved on a committee or project right away. This way they are interacting with other board members quickly and building relationships, plus they can accomplish something tangible right out of the gate. Your committee chairs are essential to the success of this. Be sure they call them and give them some history and context for the work. You’re building trust by supporting them and facilitating relationships with others.

2. Match them with a buddy or mentor. Veteran board members are needed to engage here – and it’s a wonderful leadership development opportunity for them! My philosophy is to keep it simple. Ask the mentor to reach out before the first board meeting, to sit with them at the meeting and introduce them around, to call them if they miss a meeting, to ask if they have questions, etc. Then have them report back to your Board Development Committee and track activity so you know you’re successful. Also, carefully choosing the mentor is important! Be sure they have some common ground so the match doesn’t backfire.

3. Make your meeting agendas count. Sounds simple but….one of the fastest ways to lose board members is to waste their time by focusing on the wrong things or by allowing side conversations, etc. The board president and Executive Director thoughtfully develop the agenda a week before the meeting. They consider things like why each item matters, does the agenda align with the strategic plan initiatives, is there an opportunity for generative discussion, are there too many reports and not enough action, and where can a Mission Moment be included to connect the work to community impact.

4. One-on-One with the Board President. In the first 90 days of your new board class’ term, ask the president to meet with each one of them individually. With no agenda, other than to get to know them better. Even if they are already friends, because this is about relationship building.  You want to be sure each member feels they have access to the top leader. As it turns out, this is also a nice opportunity for the board president to connect outside of a structured meeting. Don’t underestimate the power of the social capital among your board.

5. Conduct a Mid-Year Check In. About halfway through their first year, get the class of new members together for lunch or happy hour with the executive director and a representative from the Board Development Committee. Have a relaxed conversation but ask a few pertinent questions, such as – How are you enjoying your board experience so far? Have there been any surprises? What else can we do to make this a positive experience for you going forward? Take their feedback to heart for continuous improvement and you will affect board retention in a positive way.

6. Conduct year end surveys. In the webinar we talk about 3 kinds but be sure to do at least one satisfaction survey. I think digital surveys are great because they are free, simple to compile and allow for anonymity. Consider asking questions that relate to how effective they thought their committee was, if they felt board meetings were productive, if they felt their voices were heard, etc. You want to include all board members on the survey, but it might be worth segmenting out the new ones and also asking them a few additional questions related to orientation, their mentor match, etc.

So what’s next for you? What will you commit to doing this week, this month and this year to improve your nonprofit board member retention?  Let me know if you want the webinar recording that provides more insight on how to apply these 6 steps.

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