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5 Ways to Foster Nonprofit Board Member Commitment

I’ve recently been consulting with a few nonprofit groups and though they vary in their activities and missions, one commonality I’ve noticed is they all struggle to find committed and active board members. This is a complex issue, and one that is not easily addressed. When busy people volunteer their time and there are few rewards to offer beyond intrinsic satisfaction, how can you keep them motivated and committed?

Here are some tips that might give you some headway with this problem:

Establish clear expectations of volunteers

When you’re recruiting or onboarding board members, be clear as to what is expected: how many meetings they must attend, what events they must participate in, how many monthly hours membership may take, etc. This allows people with limited time to bow out before they are surprised by a heavier workload than they anticipated. If you can write job descriptions for board members, that’s even better!

Keep meetings focused

Almost every organization, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, could benefit from keeping meetings shorter and more focused. Nonprofits tend to have board members with lots of great ideas and while this helps the organization thrive, it can also hamper productive meetings. If your board meetings are filled with discussions of ideas that have been presented with little forethought, you’re likely wasting a lot of valuable time hashing out issues that should have been previously developed off-line or in subcommittee meetings.

Whoever runs your meetings can make them more focused by cutting off discussions that are best addressed before bringing an idea for a vote in front of the board. You might set some rules that any issue to be discussed must be on the agenda a couple of days ahead or must have a specific proposal attached.

Tackle a few specific goals

Many people who volunteer have great ideas, and often a nonprofit organization has a lot of projects that they want to tackle. It’s great to have creative and energetic members, but volunteers often get overwhelmed by trying to do too many things. This is where an annual goal-setting meeting can help. If your board meets annually to set a specific number of goals for the year, when other ideas come up throughout the year, they can be tabled in favor of spending time on the identified priorities.

For instance, I worked with a farmer’s market recently that had so many amazing ideas from board members, including new plans for vendor placement from the market manager. While these ideas were valuable, the board had just changed the process in the prior year, and it made more sense to put that goal off for one more year to see how the current changes were working.

Don’t overburden your best volunteers

Again, this is a tip that most organizations’ managers should consider in their everyday working lives. All too often, we as managers (yes, I’m guilty of this too) turn to our most reliable and productive employees when we need something done. We may even remove unproductive folks from our committees. In a sense, we reward the unproductive person by taking them off of a committee that requires a lot of work and punish the productive person with extra tasks! This is a very quick way to push your best people towards burnout.

Try to distribute available work more evenly. If you find yourself short of volunteers who really get things done, you can take some steps to increase accountability — more to come on that in my next blog post!

Recognize your volunteers

I once ran a fundraiser for a volunteer group — a project that took exceptionally more time and energy than I could have imagined when I signed up. While I had help, most of the work fell on me, and those on my committee recognized my contributions. But do you know who failed to ever recognize my contributions? The organization’s leader.

While I didn’t run the fundraiser to get kudos from others, I was frankly shocked when at our end-of-year meeting, no one on my committee — including me — was recognized or thanked. I didn’t get a thank-you note or even a private word of thanks; in fact, all I got a few months later was a request to help again. As you may be able to guess, I politely declined.

Those who volunteer to serve your organization are giving up time with their families, time for personal pursuits, and even time from work. If you don’t acknowledge this gift, chances are they won’t keep giving it. Take time to notice and acknowledge the time and efforts that your board members are investing in your company.

Can your nonprofit benefit from ideas like this, but you aren’t quite sure how to implement them? Dickerson Consulting has a wealth of experience in HR and leadership consulting. Email me at to discuss my services and how I can help meet your needs.


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