leadership that is as diverse and inclusive as those being served, then the nonprofit runs the risk that key constituents – volunteers, donors, partners, and communities – may feel disconnected from the cause. Training. Most boards do not have any training and often end up muddling through meetings. It is important to either have experienced leaders or get training for board members. All board members should also have copies of the nonprofit’s governing documents, mission statement, strategic plan and the Attorney General’s Guide for Board Members of Charitable Organizations. Board members need to know what their expectations are, as well as what they can do as board members. Retreats can be beneficial for reflecting on what the nonprofit’s goals are and adopting a strategic plan. Today, many nonprofits have limited economic resources, and taking the time to focus on mission priorities during a retreat can be time well spent. A clear agenda is needed and an outside facilitator may be worth considering. Among the retreat agenda items could be staff and volunteer roles, financial management, policy-making, fundraising, strategic planning, and board self-assessment. Ultimately, a well-planned retreat can help build comradery and consensus among board members and help them prioritize short-term initiatives and effectively plan for the future. Recognition. Many nonprofits forget that to keep volunteers engaged and retain them, they need to recognize them. A study conducted by the American Cancer Society’s New England Division revealed that recognition and the occasional small token of appreciation go a long way to assist in retaining board members. The recognition can be formal or informal. For example, the New England Division holds annual Volunteer Values Awards that formally recognize and honor those area volunteers whose service in the fight against cancer most exemplifies the organization’s values. On the informal side, one board provided a hanging basket of flowers to its officers at each annual meeting in June as a thank you. That gesture meant a lot to the board members for minimal expense. Equally important to the above five strategies is having effective staff leadership. An executive director’s role is to oversee the nonprofit’s functions, including fundraising, program development, HR management, and finances, and provide strategic guidance to board members on setting annual fundraising goals and standards for community outreach, grant-making, and more. However, a truly impactful executive director is dynamic, engaging and creative. He or she must embody the enthusiasm, passion, diversity and experience that is the model for all board members to follow. Particularly in a small nonprofit, it will be up to the executive director to serve as the face and voice of the organization, and motivate board members to work as a team to advance the nonprofit’s mission. Part manager, part cheerleader, and part visionary, the executive director must be a strong leader who doesn’t mind getting his/her hands dirty in the day-to-day work. Boards that follow these strategies and have active leadership often find that they are more effective and are better able to attract and retain qualified board members. C. Forbes Sargent III is a partner at Sherin and Lodgen LLP in Boston, and advises nonprofits on legal issues. Forbes is the former director of several nonprofit boards, as well as an attorney advising nonprofits, and led a volunteer retention study as fundraising chair of the American Cancer Society Massachusetts Division. Forbes can be reached at 617-646-2000 or email@example.com.
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