Monday, April 27, 2009

The Key to Motivating Board Members

Motivating Board Members or potential volunteers is not always an easy thing to do, as pointed out below by Angela Newman (Board Chair, Nashville RBI). We are all going a thousand miles a minute and keeping up with our work and personal obligations can be daunting. Angela mentions that communication is critical, I couldn't agree more. Communicate often to help keep your Board Members on track and engaged. Bunnie

The Key to Motivating Board Members

By Angela Newman
Board Chair, Nashville RBI

“There is so much to do and so few board members to help.” Sound familiar? All too often this does not reflect a lack of bodies. Many non-profit organizations have plenty of people that are willing to lend their name to the cause, but all too often many of them are simply “inactive.” They rarely attend meetings and when asked to help with connections or fundraising efforts, their lack of enthusiasm is demonstrated in both their communication and results. So how do you get board members to become more involved with the needs of the organization? This is a big challenge because board members of a non-profit are busy with their lives, kids, jobs, family events and household chores that take priority over the duties of a non-profit.

I’ve been involved as a board member with Nashville RBI ( for over four years and currently hold the position of Board Chair. Revenue from fundraisers held throughout the year help run the program; so having involved board members use their connections to raise money, secure sponsorships and open doors are key responsibilities of sitting on the board. I must say, it is very much appreciated when a board member not only attends the meeting but is also actively participating.

I believe the key to motivating board members is two-fold; the first is to lead by example, the second is to communicate with and involve the other board members.

Lead By Example

As a leader you are the axel of the wheel. It is your energy that gets the wheel turning and your enthusiasm that keeps it moving. There is no better way to motivate board members than for them to see you lead by example. Enthusiasm is infectious and if they see the time and energy you put into the tasks at hand they are more inclined to get involved when you ask them to assist. If, on the other hand, they were to see the leader only delegate, their response may be less than desirable and reflective of that attitude.

If you need board members to work on a project, list the high-level tasks to be done and note which one(s) you will be overseeing. Then ask the other members to volunteer for something they are interested in. If they don’t immediately volunteer, don’t hesitate to assign a task you would like their help with keeping in mind their specific skills and interests. If they simply cannot assist this time around due to other obligations, just let them know you understand and will approach them for the next fundraiser or project. Don’t be afraid to be a little “pushy” but be careful not to be annoying. Also let them know how important their involvement is to the cause and how much their help is appreciated. As long as you, the leader, are enthusiastic about the organization your “pushiness” will not be seen as nagging, but more as energy overflow.

Communicate and Involve Members

Once your energy and enthusiasm has started the wheel spinning, communication is what builds the momentum. If board members only find out what’s going on with the organization at quarterly board meetings, you risk having them “check out” mentally. Appropriate and timely communication is a means to share your energy and excitement. On the other hand communication that is too frequent or too lengthy can “check out” your members also.

I suggest you communicate monthly to the board on the highlights of the organization, to request their help where needed and share information about the future. Always share the successes of their efforts and show appreciation for the time and talent they contribute. Keep your emails brief and if appropriate in bullet format. Board members are busy people and being able to stay updated at a glance, will help keep them focused and engaged.

Angela Newman, CEO of Pink Ladders ( currently holds a leadership position in the healthcare industry where she has over 20 years experience. She also volunteers for Nashville RBI as Board Chair. She is an avid baseball fan (NY Yankees) and makes her charitable organization a priority in her life. She also holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration.

Angela can be contacted at


  1. Thanks for the posting Angela. You have hit the major challenges that busy board members face all across America. I like the two key points you mentioned, especially the fact that as a board chair you must lead by example.

    Another way to motivate boards are to have designate times for trainings and board development. Boards must create a culture of learning if they will continue to grow.

  2. Great Post Angela. I think the main problem is simple: the organization doesn’t take the trouble to match the volunteer’s skills with their assigned tasks.

    Could the solution be as simple and just require some discipline on the non-profit's side.

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