Board participation

Board Participation Reflects You—Good and Bad

If you've ever served on a nonprofit board, you've surely encountered an underperformer or two.

The board member who promises a lot, but rarely comes through. The one who misses meetings and calls—or dashes in consistently late. The type who seem perfectly content with others shouldering any heavy lifting.

Yes, these people like the title more than the job. And it shows. 

But here's the thing. Board participation and volunteer work doesn't happen in a vacuum.

I can't tell you the number of times I've been a part of conversations where someone's board participation becomes part of a hiring decision. I'm astounded at how many people don't consider this.

If you're considering volunteering, be clear about what time you have available and are willing to spend. Find out what the expectations are upfront (trust me, better to know now). And then do what you say you are going to do. It's simple, but more rare than you might think.

And if a life or work crisis happens in the middle of your volunteer commitment, be honest about what's happening so others can pick up the slack without problems happening. Whatever you do, don't go awol. 

And remember, your positive efforts reflect on you, too. Many friends and colleagues alike have had great experiences on nonprofit boards and also found many great opportunities as a result.

Planned Obsolescence

It's the kind of thing you hate about the technology in your new phone, but the trait you need to cultivate for yourself as a board or committee member. You need to render your presence obsolete, unnecessary to the success of the organization.

Walk with me. Talk with me.

Planning for your eventual obsolescence—your exit from said committee or board—is the best way to leave things better than you found them. And paradoxically, to leave a lasting impression. The key here is LASTING. I mean lasting success that results from the cool ass systems you put into place. Not an impression as in, "Man, Monica really left us high and dry. She was the only one who knew how to pull that newsletter together."

They won't remember how great it was when you were there. They'll be too busy trying to figure out how to fill the gaping hole you left in their communication plan or whatever niche you filled when you were in service to them.

Anon, some suggestions for leaving them with love:

Don't Just Do It. Nike be damned, y'all. Make sure you're not pulling some martyr weirdness and taking on responsibilities or tasks that need a longer shelf life than your brief tenure. Delegate and at least make sure everyone knows what's going on.

Great Expectations. If you are performing critical tasks, build that expectation into the role and train your successor. Make it clear what's expected as a committee chair (or whatever) and ensure the incumbent is prepared to tackle everything with ease.

Write It Down. If you've developed an annual communication plan over the course of your service, get it in writing and leave it with the executive director to share with the next person. If there are relationships you think it's beneficial for the person in your position to have (designers, other organizational contacts), put that down too so the board recruiting committee knows what kind of things to look for when scouting new board members.

Smell Ya Later. Don't fall off the face of the earth. Be available to chat with your successor, take them for coffee or lunch and let them know you're happy to answer questions and share tips.

What other things can people do to leave boards and committees even stronger when they make their exits? Comments, comments ... Share them on the M&C Facebook page and on Twitter.

The Halo Effect

I'm on the board of a local nonprofit that had tax credits available to donors who gave over a certain amount in 2013. Since I'm not the chick that can donate significant cash to the cause, I try to amp up the   "Talent and Time" portion of the good board member's trifecta of contributions: Time, Talent and Treasure.

That said, I asked our executive director if everyone on our file of potential donors knew about the credit. Mentioned that perhaps we should send out a couple year-end emails thanking them for their support in 2013 and inviting them to partake of the tax advantages of a generous year-end gift to our group.

The exec didn't want to bother people with a lot of year end emails so I suggested suppressing those who responded to the initial drop.

Results were impressive, but unexpected. The Halo Effect strikes again.
Several things to keep in mind:

  • One Channel Can Drive Another. Several major gifts were walked in by donors as a result of the email. Others mailed them in. The point is they knew these channels were available and their preference drove the bus here. Everyone wins.
  • Staying Top of Mind Year-Round. This organization invests in excellent PR. Even those donors who come to one event and don't actively engage with us year-round know what we're up to and the difference we're making in our community. That makes a difference when you come asking for gifts at the end of the year.
  • Staying Top of Mind Without Every Touch Including an Ask. Of ultra importance, friends. There's an integrated annual plan that includes a lot of storytelling, chances to engage with the org in person, progress reports, accolades and yes, we ask for help, but in a judicious and considered fashion …
  • Excellent Reactivation Tool. We had donors come in who used to support us, but had moved away. We had their personal email on file—and permission to contact them—so their physical address change wasn't a factor. They moved back to the city and wanted to help out with gifts and volunteer time.