What Animal is Your Board Member?

| by Shannon Williams

My colleague Priscilla reminded us last week that board members need (want, require, must have—pick your verb) expectations. I could not agree more. I truly believe that we all need to understand what is expected of us in any situation—at any age. And, I believe that most people really will try to meet expectations.

So, the question becomes how do we as staff members or fellow volunteers help board members meet and exceed expectations. It is a common question for non-profits.

Let’s assume that an expectation for a board member is to be an ambassador for your organization.

To me, the most effective way to help your board meet this expectation is to talk with board members individually and determine what being an ambassador means to them.  In this conversation, you will learn what excites them about this role and what terrifies them. You will learn what crutches they need to support them and if you listen carefully you will find the opportunities to position them for success.

If we can use an animal analogy, your board members may fit into one of the following categories:

  1. The Lion—This is the board member who is king of the jungle—has a confidence and a real (or perceived) expertise in your mission area. Plug this person into the civic club circuit allowing him to showcase his expertise by giving presentations to local groups that you want to introduce to your organization. Let him be the expert—celebrate it! Of course, you will want to be sure the presentation hits your key organizational messages. Let him give the presentation to the board for peer feedback and then send him on his way.
  2. The Labrador—This is the board member who is friendly, easy to talk with, energetic about your organization—willing to talk to anyone. However, she may have a tendency to be all over the map; to talk a lot and listen a little. A potential strategy: Be sure you have helped this board member identify 1-2 key topics to pursue when talking with a prospective donor—do the homework for this board member and be sure she is prepared to discuss the topic. Match this board member with a staff member or other volunteer partner who can balance the talkative personality and empower that partner to interject if the conversation gets off course—make sure that both parties understand that expectation.
  3. The Roadrunner—This is the board member who is always late and leaves early—glued to his phone throughout every meeting. Ask him to be a social media ambassador—will he tweet, post, pin information about your events? Will he write about you in his blog? Text him reminders and let him do what he already does around the clock.
  4. The Sheep—This is that quiet board member who never says much. She doesn’t think she could really talk to someone about your organization let alone EVER ask for money. Ask her to call a group of donors to say thank you and then give her the three sweetest, kindest, most tender-hearted donors you have. Of course, give her talking points so she will know exactly what to say. Tell her it is ok to leave a message and give her a deadline. It is amazing how good a board member can feel when all she has to do is say thank you. If this board member is really more of an Ostrich than a Sheep, you may need to ask her to write a thank you note instead, but I encourage phone calls because if someone actually answers, it will make the board member feel great to hear how much the donor appreciates the call.

What other animal types live in your organization? What strategies do you use to help them meet expectations? Join our conversation.


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