So many nonprofit board members are enthusiastic and well-meaning but too often they back out of their commitments.  Bet you have run into this problem!

And I have been on the other side too, as a board member. In the heat of an exciting discussion, I suddenly found myself making personal commitments. Then later, in my office, I thought better of those ideas and was not so very enthusiastic about them.

In nonprofit organizations, it’s hard working with volunteers, who actually don’t HAVE to do anything anyway.  You simply can’t MAKE volunteers work.  That’s why I always say that we are in the motivation business.

You have to be able to motivate and charge up your board members and volunteers if you want them to be productive.  It’s a rare nonprofit volunteer who can keep herself fully pumped up with excitement and enthusaism all the time!

Here’s my secret weapon in motivating my volunteer committees. And it’s an old standby of teamwork and leadership theory:  PEER PRESSURE.

Here’s the most important thing to know about board members: they never, repeat, never want to look bad in front of their peers.

In fact, if for some reason you should inadvertently embarrass a board member in front of the group (or if another board member does so) – it’s likely they will never forgive you.

I remember a board meeting I was attending last summer. The chair of the development committee publicly called a certain committee to task for not coming through on their fundraising event, when all the other board members had done so.

Ooooh boy. Those were fightin’ words.  We had a behind the scenes uproar later because those board members were embarassed and angry.  We are still picking up the pieces of this one!

So if peer pressure is the best way to motivate your nonprofit board members, how do you employ this?

Lots of ways:

1.  In the meeting packets for every board meeting, include a list of board members and the actions they have taken on behalf of the organization since the last meeting.

2. In your meetings, go around the table with everybody reporting in on their accomplishments. I can guarantee you that there will be a flurry of work right there at the last minute so that everyone will have something to report.  They don’t want to look bad in front of their peers!

3. Publicly praise the board members who are pulling through. Send emails out to everyone lauding accomplishments. And in meetings, hold up the high-performing board members as examples and honor them.

4. Send emails out with lists of board members and their “to-do” commitments so that everyone can see who has committed to do what.

5.  And when you have a board member who is lagging on his or her promises, just call them up and ask them if there is any way you can help them.  You’ll then have a friend as well as a board member!

What are your favorite ways to motivate your own board members?

Posted on 13 May 2010

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