Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been dedicating my newsletter real estate to comparing the skills used in supervising staff with those used for leading a board. I believe there are a lot of similarities and things we can learn from staff leadership and apply to supporting your Board of Directors. To get up to speed and read the first two articles go here and here.
Continuing in this vein, and acknowledging that it’s Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share some ideas for showing your volunteers how much you love them. Many companies and organizations focus a lot of energy on staff appreciation – which is great! Let’s look at some of those ideas and consider how we can apply them to our Governance Volunteers.
Some of these ideas can be celebrated during the “month of love”, others you might want to put into an ongoing Appreciation Plan. Knowing that your Board members likely do not want you spending money on them, these ideas are all free or very low cost. A little bit of time and thoughtfulness goes a long way when it comes to showing appreciation.
There are many ways to recognize staff and volunteers. You get the biggest bang for your “buck” when the recognition is specific and genuine. Nothing beats telling someone directly, exactly what they did that is appreciated, and how it helps.
In nonprofits we often acknowledge that our donors help us to serve our clients. And we are also pretty good about recognizing our staff and program volunteers for their direct service delivery. However, we seldom call out our governance volunteers for their impact on our cause. Consider recognizing the contributions of your board volunteers. This could be in the form of a social media post, bulletin board in your facility, a newsletter article, etc.
I think there’s this crazy idea out there that Boards of Directors are all business. Like they don’t want to celebrate the accomplishments of the organization. Take time out of board work to celebrate milestones, wins, and achievements. Don’t just pause and say “yay us”. Make it a big deal. Bring in balloons, noisemakers, and party favors. And most importantly, connect the dots between the work they do governing the agency, and the outcome you are celebrating.
I know for a fact that staff who work for nonprofits love food! People come together around food. It gives them something to connect around. If you do not regularly feed your board members at a meeting, consider adding this component once in a while, or on a regular basis. Depending on your timing, this will look different from board to board. Be sure to let everyone know if you are doing something out of the ordinary. If you are providing a meal, or even a dessert for an evening meeting, volunteers might want to plan ahead for that.
Sincere Thank You
Nothing beats a sincere thank you. This could be in the form of an email, written letter or a phone call. It’s tried and true, and it’s always appreciated. If you want to shake things up, consider doing a video message, or creating a JibJab type card to make your volunteers laugh.
Shake Things Up
Pick a month and shake things up for your regular board meeting. Maybe take it off site. Bring in a guest speaker. Spend extra time on team building. Switch up the order.
Don’t do this every month, because then it’s not special. Think of things that will increase engagement, allow for your volunteers to grow personally or professionally, or provide opportunities for greater connections. If you’re thinking about trying something new with your regular meetings, this might be a good way to try it out.
Your volunteers likely serve your organization to help solve a critical social issue in your community. But there’s nothing that says they can’t build new relationships along the way. Bringing volunteers together to connect in a non-board setting can strengthen their ability to work together.
People are busy and you’ll never get everyone together. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth the effort to build deeper relationships with those who are able to make the time.
Acknowledge Personal Accomplishments/Milestones
Just like your staff, board members have lives outside of your organization. They get married and promoted and have babies and climb mountains and retire. Creating a culture where these things are celebrated is a great way to deepen relationships and spread love. Loop back to the Recognition and Celebration bullets for thoughts on how to acknowledge these things.
Most volunteers do not want an organization spending money on them. So if you do want to give a physical token of your appreciation, it’s a good idea to give it a dual purpose. Give them a shirt to wear that creates awareness for your cause. Provide a name tag so they can be recognized as serving your organization. Acknowledge them in a way that deepens their connection, but also benefits the cause.
Nominate them for Awards
This requires you to know your volunteers and your community pretty well. Are there folks who should be nominated for citizen of the year? 40 Under 40? For their philanthropic efforts? Or should their company know about the great work they do for your organization? If they own their own business, are there ways to help support their business in a “Best of” campaign?
Again, serving on a board doesn’t always have to be all business. Adding in a little silliness or light-heartedness can make the difficult work of leading an organization more enjoyable. It also helps to bring out the personalities of your volunteers.
Consider starting meetings with a kookie question for everyone to answer. When signing important documents, bring pens shaped like french fries. Use clips from movies to set the tone for a discussion. Think “You can’t handle the truth!” from A Few Good Men or “Show Me the Money” from Jerry Maguire. (The use of examples from two different Tom Cruise movies was completely unintentional.)
While silliness can create a relationship-building culture, be sure to maintain a safe space. Playfulness shouldn’t shift into pranks or sarcasm. The goal is lighthearted fun that breaks down barriers.
You may be loving these ideas, but the reality is that you don’t feel like you have the time, energy or creativity to pull any of this off. I bet there is someone in your organization who would love this project. Delegate to a staff or volunteer whose love language is Acts of Service. This would be right in their wheelhouse and will likely energize them. You could even have an Appreciation Committee made up of volunteers, staff, or both. Give them clear direction and parameters and set them off to spread love and joy!
Kim is a mom, lover of being active and the outdoors,
and helper of nonprofits and small businesses.