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Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Here Is One Way To Get Your Board Members Engaged In Your Mission And Telling Their Friends About It

August 15th, 2014 by Karen Climer

For the past five years, I’ve served on the citizen review board for the Orlando Police Department.  This is an advisory board that reviews citizen complaints, not a fundraising board, but there are still some things we can learn from it.

Once a year, the police department hosts a training day for the board.  They ask us what we are interested in, plus they have some ideas of their own.  Our advisory board considers all OPD cases of deadly force, so it made sense for them to talk about deadly force training and policies.  After we talked about it, we went to the OPD gun range to try it out.  When new members join, they always encourage them to ride with a patrol officer one night.  Most members of the board have done a ride-along.

The first time I ever shot a gun.  Yes, they know how to train people.  Offering a hands-on ride-along experience for your board members to get them more engaged in your mission.

The first time I ever shot a gun! Yes, OPD’s training is top-notch. Offer a hands-on experience for your board members to get them more engaged in your mission (and telling their friends about it).

The result is the board members have a better idea of what they officers do every night.  It helps us make better decisions as board members.  Plus, it has the added benefit of creating more excitement about the cases and making us more interested in what the organization is doing.

You might be thinking, “Well, we don’t have cool toys like the police department, so we can’t do that.”  You’re giving up too easily.  Your organization probably could do a “ride-along” of sorts.  When I worked for an opera company, we always encouraged board members to be supernumeraries (silent roles that usually require minimal acting skills) in the opera performances.  This required them to attend rehearsals, go through make-up and costuming, and perform in the opera.  Maybe there’s a way for a board member to shadow a case worker or teacher.

Don’t just throw your hands up and scream, “Client-confidentiality — we can’t do that!”  With a little creativity, you can find ways to offer some sort of ride-along while respecting the dignity and confidentiality of the clients.

Here are some ideas to get the brain cells moving:

  • Have the board member listen in on the suicide hotline for an hour.  He doesn’t have to take the calls, just listen and observe while a trained operator handles it.
  • Have the board member give school field trip tours of the art museum.  If she isn’t comfortable giving the tour to the kids, let the docent give the tour while the board member tags along to see how much fun the kids have.
  • Have the board member ride with a caregiver that makes home visits.
  • Have the board member go to the trial with a victim’s advocate to experience the emotions of the courtroom.

Don’t decide that your board members are too busy and don’t have time to do that.  People find time for anything if they think it is worthwhile.  That’s the key — you have to make it worthwhile.  I do not have time to do a police ride-along on the midnight shift.  Normally I reserve that time for sleeping, but I carved out a few hours one night of my life because it was worth my time.  Very busy professionals find time for all kinds of volunteer activities.  If they aren’t finding time for you, you have to make it more worthwhile.

Years ago (I’m not sure if this is still happening), one of our major local hospitals would arrange a ride-along day for new board members at the hospital.  When the board member arrived, they were given a white coat with their name embroidered on it.  What a way to make the board member feel important!  These were super busy professionals who made time because it was interesting.  Unfortunately, I don’t know the details of what they did during their day.  But the hospital made it worthwhile enough that C-level executives would find several hours to participate in it.

The biggest benefit of the ride-along is that it gets your board member excited about the organization and talking to other people about it.  I talk to everyone who will listen about some of the police department stuff I learn.  At the opera company, the board members would invite their friends and family to the performances because they were going to be on stage.   When a board member can sit in the courtroom and feel the same thing a domestic violence victim feels, that’s powerful.  They will tell other people about it.  Or when the board member sees the excitement of applying Newton’s laws of relativity through the eyes of child, that’s powerful.  Try doing a ride-along to get your board members more engaged.

Posted in Board of Directors, Cultivation

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