Over the weekend, my wife I were having dinner with a couple and the husband had just joined the board of a small but growing charity. Our discussion turned to his involvement and his challenging task of helping them grow their board. He was equal parts excited and frustrated. "They've tried lots of ways to get others engaged but nothing seems to work", he lamented. If only we knew a celebrity that would get involved, he commented. I could tell we might be off to the races (a.k.a. Fantasy Land). This was starting to sound eerily familiar to conversations I've found myself involved in as both a board member and consultant to others. Before going too far down that road, I stopped and shared several ideas worth considering when trying to recruit strong, engaged board members:
No Celebrities Are Required: "Does anybody have a connection to Bill Gates or a celebrity?" is probably the most frequently asked question when the topic turns to seeking new supporters. If your organization has a true connection to either and they're committed to your cause, more power to you. But if you don't and none of your key connectors (board members, volunteers, staff etc) do either, time to move on. It doesn't take a celebrity to make the case for the great work you're doing. It takes committed, passionate individuals that have a true connection to the work you do. You just need to find them - they're out there.
Show Them Why Johnny CAN Read: We've all been there. There's a potential board member or donor we're eager to get on board and figure what better way than to pull on their heartstrings? We invite them to see the underfunded school (or the children that can't read, families without homes - the list goes on). I once heard this referred to as the "Johnny Can't Read" approach. A bit harsh for my taste but rather fitting. I'd suggest the opposite. Engage your potential board members with positive messages. Introduce them to the amazing teenagers that came through your program and can not only read but are graduating with honors. Show them the new housing your organization is developing. Use messages that speak to the power of your work and ability to create real solutions to problems.
Keep Looking and Get Creative: Board development takes work, creativity, follow up and follow through and patience. This stuff isn't easy but it can be done. This is an ongoing discussion and not a section of your board retreat that gets attention once a year. Creativity is key and can help drive you towards some wonderful surprises. I found an amazing leader by reaching out my top 100 Linkedin contacts with event management experience or an interest in endurance sports. I was incredibly fortunate to meet a future board member that had not only the skills but a genuine connection to the cause. This doesn't happen everyday but it does happen when you try new things and keep at it. So keep at it!
Enjoy the hunt...
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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