Board Development: Getting the most out of your board members


By Hilary Young
The Brief
Nonprofit board members bring passion and funds to your organization. But to maximize their impact, you need to engage them in developing the business by gauging their areas of interest and leveraging their expertise.

Many nonprofits face a problem that has nothing to do with fundraising, marketing or operations. Simply put, they’re not doing enough to maximize the impact of board members. Nonprofit boards need to be comprised of diverse members who can provide expertise and insight, not just deep pockets. In an earlier post on RelSci, Ryan Galloway hit the nail on the head when he wrote that many nonprofits “continue to cling to the idea that the only effective way to attract board members is focusing on how the organization’s mission aligns with a candidate’s passions and interests.“

There’s much more at stake for a nonprofit board than a for-profit board because success is determined not by revenue, but by the very survival of the organization. Passion is fantastic, and money is critical, but they’re not where a board member’s responsibilities should end. An engaged board will not only bring your organization success, but will also enable your cause to thrive. Start with the following:

1. Treat your board as a panel of experts. Aside from fundraising and development, figure out which areas of your organization could use some improvement. Think broadly; human resources, marketing, finance and public relations are key areas you can focus on building out through the board. Consider holding regular “skill building” sessions with board members and your staff to help hone the skills of your day-to-day talent.

2. Hold board members accountable. Many board members sign on with nonprofits because they feel passionate about the mission and are able to commit to monthly meetings. But it’s important to let prospective members know that a successful relationship with your organization requires more than two hours a month. A nonprofit business is still a business, with all a business’ needs; to really be effective, your board members should commit to putting in at least 10 hours a month.

3. Figure out what you want board members to expect from the experience. Are they there to help fundraise?  Do they want to help with organizational governance? Can they help connect you to other people who can help further your mission? It’s important to know what they want to do in order to get the most out of them. Create committees within the board, and allow them to take control over their own areas of expertise. Allowing members to feel like they are in control of this process will help keep them more engaged.

4. Find young blood from time to time. While we’re discussing talent diversity, it’s also important to mention age diversity as well. It’s imperative to have seasoned professionals from the business world on your board, but there is real value in intergenerational brainstorming. Older board members might have deeper pockets, but younger members will have wider reach, new ideas and fresh perspective (including how to stretch your social media).

Take care with your board selection as you would with the rest of your organization. A diverse, connected and engaged group of board members can make all the difference in creating success for your mission.

Hilary Young is the owner and creative director of Hilary Young Creative, a boutique consulting firm that provides nonprofits and small businesses with creative strategy, and a blogger for the Huffington Post, and This is her second post for RelSci.
RelSci helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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