4 Ways to Build an Ineffective, Disengaged Nonprofit Board

Your board of directors. They are responsible for the governance of your organization. They are also volunteers.

It’s an unfortunate truth that many nonprofit organizations struggle to effectively attract and engage board members. And for good reason – it’s not an easy task!

But before you start asking, “Why are there no good board members out there?!” take a look internally. Are you making these all-too-common mistakes with your board?

Disengaged Board Member

1. Be Vague About the Commitment Level

I once knew someone named Don. Don’s good friend was starting a nonprofit whose mission was to bring more culture and art into their small community. Don’s friend said, “Don’t worry – it won’t be much work. I just need bodies.” Don didn’t have much of an interest in the topic, but he wanted to be a good friend. So, despite being busy raising his two daughters and working full time, Don said yes.

You can probably guess how this ends: It actually was a lot of work, and Don didn’t have the time or the interest. He left the board a year later with both his and his friend’s time wasted.

For some organizations, the only requirement for being on the board is writing a big check once a year. But is this the norm? No. Most nonprofits are small, volunteer-run groups who benefit by having active and engaged board members. If you think, “I just need to get someone in the door, and then I’ll get them interested,” then think again.

2. Don’t Ask for Monetary or Fundraising Support

“She already does so much for us. We can’t ask her for money, too.”

I heard this once at a nonprofit I was working with. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s time to revisit your outlook on your supporters. In fact, people who donate time to your organization are much more likely to donate money, too, when compared with those who do not volunteer for you. Why? Because when you’re as invested in an organization’s success as you should be when you’re a board member, you’ll likely do what’s in your means to help the organization succeed – including a monetary donation. And often, the only barrier between a donation and no donation is the courage to ask for one.

3. Keep All the Responsibility to Yourself

It’s no secret: People want to feel useful. Spending hours at a board meeting and not feeling like you’re personally accomplishing anything is a sure-fire recipe for disengagement. I know I would rather spend 3 hours working on a project that matters than 1 hour simply nodding my head and participating in a few votes.

It’s okay to give up the reigns to your board members here and there. You might be surprised at how a disengaged board member does a 180 when given a little responsibility using the unique skills they bring to the table.

4. Choose Board Members Who Don’t Reflect the Community You Serve

Diversity is always the ideal – not just on a board, but in virtually any setting. A variety of opinions coming from a range of worldviews is key to progress. But when you’re striving for diversity, ask yourself one critical question: “Does anyone on our board actually share experiences, values, and interests with the community we’re serving?”

Imagine how much more effective a hunger-fighting organization could be if someone on the board actually experienced what it’s like to go hungry? You’ll get insights you simply can’t get through research.

One way to increase diversity on your board is to reach outside of your networks. Post your board openings on VolunteerMatch.org with the cause tag “Board Development.” Remember to be as descriptive as possible about the commitment level and the type of board member you’re seeking.

Do you have advice to share on creating an effective and engaged board of directors? Share them in the comments below, or tweet to us @VolunteerMatch.

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