3 Tips for Successful Nonprofit Board Development

by | May 20, 2022

As a nonprofit Executive Director, the amount of time you invest with your board of directors can vary wildly depending on your organizational culture and the time of year.

But make no mistake: Nonprofit board development is critical to your success. And it’s becoming increasingly important to your funders too. 

Foundations want to know that your board is doing its job and doing it well. And even private donors want to know that board members are investing in your mission.

The trouble is that many nonprofit leaders don’t know where to begin when it comes to board development. So we sat down with Linda Lysakowski recently on A Modern Nonprofit Podcast to get her secrets to successful board development.

Linda works with nonprofits all over the world, and she’s helped tens of thousands of organizations with fundraising and nonprofit board development.

Here are three key takeaways from our conversation:


Leverage your committees to boost participation


#1: Leverage your committees to boost participation

Did you know that not all board committee members have to be board members?

It’s true! Committees report to the board of directors, but they can be staffed by non-board members. This strategy can be a great way to recruit new, highly engaged board members! 

When you engage volunteers, professionals, and other community members to help out on a committee, board members are less likely to feel burned out. Plus, you open the door for other positive things to happen.

  1. Your circle of supporters widens. And the more people who come to a deeper understanding of your mission and vision, the more people will donate to your cause.
  2. Board members can learn new skills. People like to expand their experiences and deepen their understanding of new subjects. Board members can learn from a pro, which, in turn, helps them feel more empowered in their role.
  3. The recruiting process gets easier. When your leadership team works with an individual on a particular project, they can see how that person and their skills fit with the rest of the board. Likewise, the individual can envision a longer-term relationship as a board member.

As you can see, using committees effectively can have ripple effects across your organization.


Get all board members involved with fundraising


#2: Get all board members involved with fundraising

You might be afraid to demand too much of your board. But fundraising and development are something that all of your board members can and should participate in.

Expect 100% board participation

As Linda put it during our conversation for A Modern Nonprofit Podcast, boards of directors are like parents of a kid headed to college. 

When parents ask for financial aid to help fund their child’s college education, the government agency or the school will first ask what the family can contribute. Before anyone gives them money, they want to know that the parents are willing to put some skin in the game. 

Similarly, foundations and private donors may cross-reference your IRS 990 with your donor list to ensure that your board members are giving. Because if you can’t count on them to support your cause, who can you count on?

So you should absolutely let them know (before appointing members to the board) that you expect 100% board participation when it comes to donations.

At the same time, Linda cautions against setting a minimum donation level for board members. 

There are at least two issues with this type of policy because it can:

  • Exclude lower-income people, who might not be able to meet that minimum, from serving on the board
  • Limit the amount given by higher-income board members who interpret that minimum as the maximum. A board member who may have been prepared to give $10,000 might see the $1,000 minimum and only make the minimum required donation.

Rather than defining a dollar amount, set the expectation that all board members should make your organization one of their top two or three giving priorities.

Every board member can play some role in fundraising

Beyond giving their own money, board members should also be helping to bring more donations to the table. It can be a sensitive topic with board members, so you may need to approach it delicately and teach them how they can best be involved.

Fundraising and development consist of four distinct phases — identifying, cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding. 

You’ll notice that only one of these consists of actually asking for money. So, while many people are hesitant to solicit, there are three other ways board members can get involved in developing new donors.

Even board members who never become comfortable asking for donations may still be excellent at cultivating relationships or managing relationships with existing donors. So encourage your nonprofit board members to utilize their unique skills. If they believe in the cause, they should all be involved in development at some level.

Never stop recruiting new board members

#3: Never stop recruiting new board members

If you spend a lot of time in the nonprofit space, you’ll know that there tends to be a “recruiting season.” Once a year, the nominating committee gets together to think about the holes they have to fill. And then there’s a mad scramble to find appropriate candidates.

But board development should always be a process rather than a one-and-done project. That’s why Linda recommends you get rid of your nominating committee and replace it with a Governance Committee. The Governance Committee is in charge of continually evaluating the board’s effectiveness and identifying opportunities to improve.

Your governance committee should ask questions like:

  • How are we performing as a group?
  • How is each individual performing?
  • What do we need so we can increase our efficacy?

Wrestling with these questions (and being honest about the answers) will help the committee make strong recommendations to the board about possible new candidates and positions they should fill.

Plus, if you do this process correctly, it can help all board members get something extra out of their service. As much as they put into your organization, each person has unique motives for serving. Board members want to grow, learn, network, and explore.

Ultimately, asking these evaluation questions will help improve the overall health of the board. Your board members will feel more engaged and fulfilled. And that will make it easier for them to invite others into committees, help with donor development, and recruit passionate colleagues to the board.

Want more tips on nonprofit board development?

When your board of directors is healthy and engaged in your organization’s mission, that commitment will directly impact your bottom line. And help make growing your mission as easy as possible.

For more tips on nonprofit board development, check out this clip with Linda’s top strategies for finding better board members:


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