Practical Strategies to Effectively Engage Nonprofit Board Members

Practical Strategies to Effectively Engage Nonprofit Board Members

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Having board members that are actively engaged in the mission and performance of the organisation is highly critical. However, keeping a board engaged requires work. For instance, a study of 200 non-profits in the United States reveals that only 15 per cent of non-profit boards are involved in fundraising, while 60 per cent of non-profits wished their boards supported their fundraising efforts. This presents an obvious disconnect between expectation and reality. It can also be quite frustrating for both staff and board members. So, what can you do to engage your board?

To start with, board engagement goes beyond attending meetings or signing documents. It refers to the commitment level (intellectual, physical, ambassadorial and emotional) that a board clearly demonstrates to the organisation and its mission. Engagement comes in different forms. Board members can bring different things to the table. To access all the talents and resources within your board, you need to develop a board engagement strategy that aligns with your overall organisational objectives.

First things first! Make sure you recruit the right people 
It is very important to get the basics right, and this starts with the recruitment process for board members. First, you’d need to determine what your organisation requires; do you need someone with great connections with other foundations and wealthy individuals or someone with more connections within the community? When you’ve identified what skills and experience your non-profit needs, then you are ready to find and recruit board members.

For both new and existing non-profits, the boards should have a balance of talent and organisational competency. While it is not compulsory to select people who have previous board experience, they must share the organisation’s mission, be passionate about its cause and be ready to contribute towards the achievement of its objectives. Effective board members also understand the difference between governance and management. The governing body provides leadership, oversight, strategic direction and outlines the organisation’s mission. That is, governance provides the framework for management, while management organises the routine and administrative work that drives the operations of the organisation.

It is also important to avoid people who serve simultaneously on many other boards. You may not get the best from people who juggle multiple commitments.

It doesn’t exist if it is not written 
After finding and recruiting board members, it is important to examine the written expectations required of them. The best board members want to know how they fit into the organisation’s big picture. What does their attendance to meetings mean?  That is, what unique perspectives are they bringing that distinguishes them from other board members? Board members are better engaged when they know that their talents, expertise, passions, assets, and networks will be harnessed in meaningful ways. Board members are also more effective when they have specific (but not too many) tasks, this makes it easy to link their engagement with the strategic direction.

It is also important to involve the board members when developing your board policy to secure their buy-in. Ask your board members to identify ways in which they can engage. This way, you can hold them accountable and they are also more inclined to engage because they were part of designing the policy.

Develop a Board Engagement Plan 
It is advisable to develop a board engagement plan that will ensure that board members are always kept abreast on the latest industry trends and organisational challenges and/or more importantly, successes. This could be through regular meetings, emails and telephone calls. You could also engage board members in more creative ways; for example, the Executive Director could commit to having one-on-one coffee meetings or lunch with a board member every month. That way, you can cover issues that may not have been raised at the official board meeting.

Nurture a Relationship Outside of the Boardroom 
Flowing from the above, it is important to nurture a personal relationship with board members beyond their official status. Board members can get really overwhelmed; get to know them and allow them to know you. Think of activities that can create a community bond among board members and take their minds off funding or performance-related issues for a while. This can have a positive impact on their morale and foster a productive environment. Think of it as a financial investment, when people know that you’re not just looking for what to get, but what to give, they are also willing to give their best.

Recognise and Celebrate Engagement 
When board members are actively engaged, recognise and celebrate them, if possible in public. As the board provides leadership to the organisation, show them how their decisions are helping the organisation to achieve its strategic mission. Let them see how their specific tasks are also contributing to the organisation’s progress. Make them proud of what they are doing and what they represent. This would sustain their engagement and make them true ambassadors.

There are many other ways that can keep your board members engaged. The most important thing is to remember that board members are also people. Identify the right people, make them see the value they are bringing, communicate constantly with them and celebrate them.

Oyindamola Adegboye is an intern at WACSI as part of the Erasmus Mundus Scholar in Education Policies for Global Development (GLOBED), under the Knowledge Management Unit.


NOTE: Opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.


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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.