25 things awesome board members do

Nonprofit With Balls

Hi everyone. A colleague asked me to write about what board members can do to be helpful to staff. Nonprofit board members are critical to the success of organizations. We rely on y’all for so many important things and are deeply grateful for all the time, skills, connections, and resources you give, especially considering that the majority of board members are volunteers.

However, boards are also the direct cause of 39% of brain aneurysms in the sector, according to statistics that I made up. So I asked the NWB Facebook community to help develop a list of what awesome board members do. This is not a list of board roles and responsibilities, which you can google, or find at BoardSource, but actual, down-to-earth, sometimes seemingly minor stuff. One colleague writes this of one of her board members:

“When your fundraiser is on the same night as an ice storm, he personally salts the sidewalks and parking lot. Then when all the salt runs out he goes to the gas station down the road and buys more salt to finish the job. He also demands car keys from me and coworker at the end of the night to defrost and scrape our car windows. And somehow in the midst of all that he also pays several hundreds of dollars on an auction item and poses for tons of pictures with the kids. #oneofthebest

OK, that board member is amazing and deserves, like, the biggest plaque ever, but I don’t think any of us are asking any of you board members to go that far. If you can do even a few of the things below on this list, we’ll all be eternally grateful and will preserve your names forever in the indices of nonprofit history.

  1. Promptly respond to emails. Oh please, oh please respond quickly to emails and phone calls. Awesome board members realize that sometimes we legally cannot move forward on stuff until there’s a board decision or an officer’s signature. They help us do our jobs by being accessible. Chasing down board members is one of the biggest frustrations we staff face, next to coworkers who leave dishes in the sink for days.
  2. Learn staff’s names and roles. Says one colleague, “Had a board member that would tell me how to do my job AND call me Heather! At least use the right name if you are going to condescend to me.” If the organization is not huge, learning staff’s names and a little about their work and, when appropriate, personal lives will help improve morale and board-staff relationship.
  3. Are willing to work with “lower-level” staff. The ED/CEO is great, but some projects need collaboration between board members and non-ED/CEO staff. Awesome board members are OK with talking to the lowly front-line staff and even the unwashed interns.

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