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Leadership Monday: 3 Ways to Build Relationships with Board Members

So often when I ask executive directors about their relationships with board members what I get is, “Well, we meet quarterly and I have about 75-80% attendance, so that’s pretty good.”

Have you ever thought about your board meetings as opportunities to strengthen relationships with key stakeholders (your board) while also building your reputation?

If you’d like to better leverage your board’s network and influence in the future to benefit your nonprofit, try these 3 strategies during board meetings:

  1. If you want success when it comes to asking your board to invest energy and connections, you must build a foundation of trust. You’ve probably already started this process with a transparent operations plan and regular communication, but there are small steps you can take in your meetings to deepen your reputation. For example, let’s talk eye contact. Maintaining it during conversations is a skill that not everyone has. Also, think about “how you look.” Yes, literally, your appearance. Some people call it showing you have skin in the game. By that I mean rolling up your sleeves. Believe it or not, studies have shown that this simple tactic implies that you’re open and approachable, yet mean business.

  2. I know you probably don’t like to ask for favors, but as long as you’re not doing it all the time, people enjoy being asked to help and become more invested in helping if they know their involvement is important. There is a right way and a wrong way to ask for a favor, however. You can maintain goodwill in the boardroom with these steps:

  • First, be open about what you’re asking for – a favor.

  • Then, explain to your board why the favor is needed. Just like in appeal writing, when you address the “why” you get better (and more favorable) responses.

  • Most importantly, give them an out so no one feels they have to follow through (if the favor becomes too much of a burden).

  1. You know which of your board members has connections to key prospects and influential people. Knowing isn’t enough, however. By demonstrating to your board members that you’re looking for a specific contact for a particular task, you’ll be upping the chances of securing warm, rather than lukewarm, introductions. Questions like “Do you know anyone who might be interested in helping with this project?” frustrate board members who may grow tired of non-specific requests. When you ask for an introduction to a specific person, for a specific purpose, you create a much more favorable scenario for them, which makes them more likely to help you.

Your takeaway: Your board should be a well of relationship information into which you should be tapping regularly. Start by building trust in ways both large and small. At every board meeting, come with a list of specific requests, and don’t be afraid to ask for favors. Doing this will make for more engaged board members and your entire organization will see the benefits both long and short term.

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