Getting board members to be fully present
In my work with nonprofits around the world, I find a common element in those with high performing boards: their board members feel released to be fully themselves. This is often evidenced by their ability to share their personal story.
It seems basic, but the vast majority of board members I work with discredit the value of their story. This manifests in a couple ways:
They don't engage well with fundraising
Highly performing boards are characterized by members who are enthusiastic ambassadors for their nonprofit. Whether appointed to the board or there by invitation, board members readily tell others why they love the nonprofit. This isn't true of the typical nonprofit board. Typical board members tend to think that "being an ambassador" only means asking for money from their friends. And worse, that asking for money means memorizing a "schpeal." They feel they have to be something other than themselves if they're to raise money.
In truth, if the nonprofit wanted someone other than themselves, they would have asked someone else to the board! Board members that tell their own story may still feel stressed about asking, but it's not compounded by the stress of memorizing a pitch. They are moving outside their comfort zone, but they are doing it rooted in who they are rather than in who they aren't.
They "mail it in" in at board meetings
Highly performing boards are characterized by energetic conversations and stimulating meetings. The typical board is more often characterized by lifeless "rubber stamping" votes and committee reports.
When board members don't feel their story matters, they don't bring their entire self to the board meeting. In truth, your nonprofit needs each member to be fully present in order to make the best decisions and give the best guidance possible.
Benefits of a board member's story
If you've read my 21 Ways for Board Members to be Engaged in their Nonprofit's Fundraising, that comes free when you join my free fundraising newsletter, you'll know sharing your story is at the base of at least 6 of those 21!
I remember doing a personal "Ask Without Fear!" training for one board member who's nonprofit was in a capital campaign. She visibly relaxed when she learned that "just" telling her story was a huge help! Some of the reasons she relaxed were:
- There was no way she could remember all the nonprofit's literature, or even just the campaign documents.
- She wasn't a numbers person so felt really scared about having to talk about the CFO's report in the brochure.
- And most importantly, she'd never forget her own story!
Although she was a powerful woman, she discredited her contribution to the board because so many others around the table had more prestigious titles or connections than she felt she had. Permission to simply tell share from her experience freed her up to introduce people to the campaign.
Questions to help board members share their story
Here are two simple questions that will help free your board members up to share their story:
- What first got you supporting our organization?
- What convinced you to join the board?
In most cases, those two questions -- asked with sincere interest -- will open board members up to telling their own story. And that, is precisely the most valuable tool in their board member tool belt!
Telling your nonprofit's story
Of course, this is so much easier if your nonprofit is consistently telling its story well. If you need help with that, check out the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference this November. Hurry, the special early bird pricing ends soon. NonprofitStorytellingConference.com.