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Calling all board members: get ready for the flurry of fall activities that are a part of life within the nonprofit sector. Consider the following as you sip an iced tea, or bury your feet in the sand. Contemplate these “board refreshers” as you enjoy – or hide from – the hot summer sun. Grab your board binder, put on your nonprofit sun visor, and let’s talk board engagement.

Let’s start by pulling out the bylaws for the nonprofit you serve. If you can’t find your copy, or never received one, request a copy from the board chair or executive director. Read them. Mark them up. What do you understand? What doesn’t make sense? Do they appear to be up-to-date or out-of-date? Here are a few basic things you want to know: are there term limits for members? What is the maximum size of the board? What constitutes a quorum? Reach out to the board chair with your questions. Ask for answers. Chances are that if you have questions, so do others.

Next up for review is the budget. Study it closely. What information is clear and what raises questions? How does the current fiscal year compare to the prior year? Is the budget increasing without an increase in fundraising or grant revenue? Have there been transfers from endowment to the operating budget? Were the prior year’s revenue goals met? If your organization is audited, review the audit. Do you know what is being communicated and what you should look out for when providing oversight? Look closely at the fundraising goals and what was actually raised. And look at your own checkbook: did you make a gift? Participate in fundraising with fellow board members?

Think about the board meetings themselves. What happened during the meetings you attended? How many did you make? If attendance was a challenge for you, look at the reason why. Was the issue scheduling, or could it be you’re just not that interested? If scheduling is at the heart of the matter, speak with your board chair to get the issue resolved. If your interest or commitment has waned that’s fine. Again, speak with your chair and coordinate the how and when of resigning. There is no stigma to leaving a board if your heart isn’t in it. Effective boards – and by extension effective nonprofits – need committed and engaged members.

When reflecting on the past years’ board meetings, think about what was accomplished by the board and how the time in board meetings was actually spent. What were your feelings at meetings: were you bored, engaged, energized, confused? Take a moment to write up your suggestions for how to increase the level of board engagement. Share these with the board chair at the appropriate time.

Finally, look to the future. What do you want to accomplish as a board member in the coming year? Is there one thing that you want to take responsibility for? How will you work with your fellow board members to accomplish your goal?

Copyright 2017 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of four books on fundraising available on For help growing your fundraising visit or call (901) 522-8727.

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