Engaging Trustee's


Over the past eight years we have had the privilege of working with nonprofit organizations of all shapes and sizes. In those eight years we have come to realize there are three major things holding organizations back from unlocking their potential.

Leaders can become so focused on working IN their role that they forget to work ON their organization. Spending time working on the organization is critical to providing a pathway forward and moving the team in a positive direction. The three major levers that nonprofit CEOs need to be focused on consistently to break the status quo are the following:

  • Developing Engaged Trustees
  • Designing Transformative Strategy
  • Developing Staff

Developing a board of engaged trustees is the #1 catalyst for your organization's growth. The board is not just a group of individuals that govern. They are gateways to: advice, stewardship, resources, social networks, talent, professional services, and especially vision. 

Different trustee candidates provide different size gateways and levels of access. The CEO of a Fortune 500 company is going to be able to provide a different gateway access than a small -town business owner. One is not better than the other. The scale of their thinking and level of perspective will be significantly different. So how do you know which one to recruit for the board of trustees based on the organizations strategic need and realistic expectations of scale?

The recruiting strategy for trustees must match the strategic direction of the organization. If the strategy of an organization is to scale from a local to regional presence, then the trustees must have gateway value regionally or state-wide. The reason for this is to raise the level of order and organization of the board to operate at the desired level of scale. Be careful not to make too big of a leap with recruiting board candidates. If you are trying to scale regionally, you may not be able to influence a candidate to join your board if they currently have the ability to work at the national or international level of scale. Their values will determine what level of interest they with have. It could be local, regional, state, national, or international. 

Recruiting, on-boarding, placement, and leadership of trustees is an on-going job that will continue to pay dividends, if managed consistently in partnership with the board. The way to build engaged trustees is to appeal to their values, talents, and passions. If you can link those values to the strategy and the work of the board, then it will keep trustees engaged around what they enjoy. Be sure to discover candidates' passions, talents, and interests during the recruitment phase. Ask the tough questions before they become a member of the board, so it will be clear where they can deliver the most value.

Leading the organization forward will become easier with engaged trustees, but there must be a clear path to follow. Designing transformative strategy is the #2  major lever to success, and will be the subject of our June 2015 Nonprofit Strategy Report.