Board Members as Ambassadors

“What do my board members need from me, and what do I need from them?”

Each Monday I pull out a list of my board members, on a grid with tasks, and ask myself this question for each and every member. Do I need someone to call a supporter? Help close a gift? Take a new donor out to lunch? Do I need to support them as a committee member? This incredibly strong relationship with my board triples the size of my development team, and makes my work as Director of Development easier and incredibly rewarding.

Your board members are your organization’s best ambassadors. They are champions that invite new folks into your community and introduce you to new communities. They invest their time, money and other resources to make your organization more successful. And they are a part of your development team, helping you reach your financial and advocacy goals.

If this sounds a little (or very) idealistic, it may be because your board members don’t understand their role. As Director of Development, or as a Development Officer, some of the most important relationships you can build are the ones with your board members. You may not be able to control who gets recruited to your board, but fostering a relationship with each member from the outset can help both you and the board member manage your expectations.

Here are some tools I use that will help you be successful:

  1. Board Commitment Form – A board commitment helps spell out expectations for both board members and the organization. This form details how and when they are to participate in board meetings. It covers their financial commitment (whether it’s required or not), and how they plan to fulfill this commitment. The form also spells out their volunteer commitment and how you, as staff, are expected to support them so that they can be the most successful board member possible.

  2. Board Training – Whether this is their first board experience or their 15th board experience, it’s important to train board members about your organization’s culture. What are your policies? Who on staff has access to board members? How are financials presented? How does your organization endorse initiatives? It’s a great way for board members to learn how things work for your organization and community.

  3. Board Introduction – Taking new board members out for coffee or lunch is a great way to welcome them to your organization. You’ll learn their preferred method of communication, why they joined your board and what your mission means to them. Treat them as you would a new key volunteer or supporter—they are both!

  4. And lastly, do what you can to ensure your development team has a presence at all board meetings. Ask for 30 minutes to present a fundraising refresher or a communications training. Ask your Executive Director if they notice any trends in what the board is asking for, and make it happen. Have each member write down 10 connections at other organizations so that you can build community and increase collaboration. Board meetings are a great opportunity for your development team to reinforce organizational values and messages, give board members the tools they need to be successful, and show your appreciation for them throughout the year.

There are always so many things Directors of Development need to worry about, and making these small touches with board members tends to take the back burner. But investing in this relationship is just that: an investment. And if you put in the work, you’ll find that board members truly are your best ambassadors.

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