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"Our BoardAssist candidates have been amazing additions to our Board of Directors."

Executive Director, Good Shepherd Services.
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5 Tips for a Happier and More Effective Board

Have your board members become BORED?  Many nonprofits that come to BoardAssist for support are indeed in need of an energy infusion.  Adding an agent of change to your board is a great way to liven things up, but for some nonprofits, that may not be enough.  In this guest post, fundraising guru Gail Perry graciously shares her terrific advice on how to jumpstart your board.  


Is your board stuck in the doldrums? Are your board members tired and disengaged?

It doesn’t have to be this way. You really can rev up their energy and excitement. Here are some simple tips that can change everything with your board.

1. Lighten up.

Don’t make the experience that your board members are having to be dreary and dragging.  Help them enjoy their experience.  Happier board members are more committed and more productive.

You may know my number one fundraising motto: “when in doubt, throw a party!”  What I mean is when you make it fun, then people want to hang with you.

Nobody’s having very much fun these post-recession days. Or so it seems! So help your board members enjoy their time off from work and family.

There are many, many places they can spend their very limited spare time. Make your organization their top choice!   There’s nothing about nonprofit or charity work that says it has to be dreary and dull.

  • Benefit: Make it interesting for your board members, and they’ll reward you with their time, attention and energy. 


2. Build a team experience.

Pssst. Want to know a secret? Your board members would really enjoy getting to know each other as acquaintances and friends.

It’s imperative, from a management standpoint, that your board members get to know each other as real people.

How else will you build trust, camaraderie, collegiality, and respect?  (These are pretty highly valued qualities, right?)  How can they run a major nonprofit enterprise, if they don’t even know each other?

How can they have intense discussions and challenge each other in a friendly fashion if they don’t feel like they are on the same team?

DOWN time with your board is vital. It helps forge personal relationships.

  • Benefit: They will reward you by making your organization a top priority.


3. Give them something real to do.

Do your board members think it’s their job to come in and pontificate?   Do they think their job is to simply give their opinion and then walk out the door with no responsibility?  (Hope not!)

Don’t let this happen to your board!

Think ahead. Plan a bit.   What DO you really need them to do in the next two months?   Why don’t you present action items at your board meeting? Or have the board chair present them?

I hear this a lot from board members,

“I feel guilty because I’m not doing enough for my nonprofit.

But often board members don’t know what to do.  So make it easy for them. Make it clear.   Every board meeting should end with a call to action – and one or two action items for EVERYBODY.

  • Benefit: They will reward you by getting your priorities done.


4. Get everybody to agree on expectations.

I hear so much fretting about inactive board members.

But here’s the rub: Board members are generally confused about what you need from them.  They are happier when they know clearly what’s expected. This month, next month and all year long.

Lots and lots of boards have expectations and job descriptions that board members sign, and then forget.   It’s up to you – nonprofit leader – to bring it back up to them over and over. You can say,

“You remember that we all agreed to do xxxx or yyyy this year. How’s everybody coming on that? Do you need any help?

And then give them a deadline:

“We need everybody  to have xxxx done by the end of  July. Let me know if I can help you.

  • Benefit: If everyone knows and agrees on expectations, they will reward you by performing at a higher level.


5. Lead them  – gently.

Dear reader, whether you are a staff leader or a board leader, be willing to take a stand for what’s important and needed.

There has GOT to be leadership – somewhere  – for your board.Without leadership, nothing will happen. And nobody will feel good about their time investment on your board.

If you are staff, see if you can get a board member to champion what you need to have done. We all know that volunteers will usually pay more attention to a peer volunteer than staff.

When I serve on a nonprofit board, I always want to know what the staff needs from us board members.  I always, always ask the staff what they need the board to do right now – this month.

If you realize that a certain issue or priority needs to be dealt with, it’s up to you to prod everyone to make it happen.

Staff can always use such language with board members as:

“How can I help you?

“Do you need any more information for that?

“Remember we are all trying to get this finished by xx date.

“Remember these are the action items that everybody agreed to in the last meeting.

In the final analysis, it really does come down to leadership.

Somebody has to step up to the plate and rally the troops.

  • Benefit: when you set priorities and see that things get done – you make things happen!



You really ARE trying to change the world, aren’t you?

So pull your board together as a team, give them a terrific experience, focus them on action items – and then everybody else better get out of the way!


Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, is an international fundraising consultant, trend-spotter, speaker, trainer and thought leader. Her Fired-Up Fundraising Board Workshops have inspired thousands of board members to get actively involved in fundraising. Gail’s book, Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action (Wiley/AFP) is the “gold standard guide to building successful fundraising boards.”   

Gail’s Fired-Up Fundraising approach, developed over the past 25 years as a non-profit philanthropy expert, has helped organizations raise hundreds of millions in gifts and support.  Gail launched her fundraising career at Duke University and then directed the fundraising program at the Kenan-Flagler School of Business, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.