Check out these tips from Laurie Powsner (Executive Director of the FCA of Princeton and former FCA National board member) and Joyce Mitchell (President of FCA of Utah and FCA National board member).
Reinvigorating your Board of Directors
Have enough people on your board so that all the jobs are getting done and no one person is shouldering too heavy a load.
- Vice President
- Recording Secretary
- Membership Coordinator – receives phone calls and mail, send out materials
- Database Coordinator – Someone to update and maintain the membership database
- Newsletter Coordinator – Someone to compile the newsletter
If you have seven board members to do the above jobs, these others can be done by committees formed from the seven. Other jobs include:
- Publicity/public speaking
- Funeral home price survey
- Planning annual meeting
- Funeral board/Legislative monitor
- Distribution of pamphlets (good job for a board member who is not doing much but doesn’t want to leave the board. Or, use volunteers from your membership).
Raise your standards and you’ll raise the quality of your board. Some affiliate board members feel so desperate that they will take any warm body that offers to be on the board. If you treat it like a task no one would want, you’re not going to attract the kind of people who are going to make an effective board. Shake off the desperation and show new recruits your enthusiasm. Your board deserves highly skilled and participative board members. Remind yourself of FCA’s mission of activism and your local’s potential, and move forward with the idea that it’s an honor to be invited to serve on your board.
Look for overall qualities that will help your board work well. You may need someone to be your treasurer, but if you find someone who has that skill but is irritating to be around, it is not a good choice.
Look for people who:
- Have the ability to: listen, analyze, think clearly and creatively, work well with people.
- Are willing to: review agenda and supporting materials prior to board meetings; attend board meetings, serve on committees and offer to take on special assignments; ask questions; take responsibility and follow through on assignments; contribute personal and financial resources in a generous way according to circumstances; inform others about the organization.
- Will develop certain skills, such as how to: solicit funds, identify and recruit board members, read and understand financial statements, learn about and stay up to date on funeral issues.
- Possess: honesty; tolerance of differing views; a friendly, responsive, and patient approach; community-building skills; concern for your mission; and a sense of humor.
- Are well known and respected community members. They have good connections, are effective at spreading the word about what you do, and they will lend credibility. But, make sure they are willing to do a job as well, even if it’s only a small one. Be clear with new recruits that you have a working board; there are no figurehead positions.
Even if you are thoroughly revamping your board, keep one or two long term board members if you can. Founding members can be invaluable for their institutional knowledge and expertise.
It’s important that each and every person on your board fulfills a role. Look for board members who will complement your current board, not replicate the strengths you already have. Do you have:
- A good writer
- A good public speaker
- Someone familiar with publicity
- A few people with a solid financial background
- Someone with fundraising experience and/or the ability to tap into higher-dollar donors
- An attorney (especially helpful are those familiar with end-of-life issues or estate planning). Also nice to have for helping with 501(c)(3) status, charities registration, etc.
- A hospice social worker, nurse or chaplain
- A physician (especially helpful; a geriatric, hospice or palliative care physician or one who sits on the local hospital’s ethics committee)
- A reporter (could be your good writer and be helpful with publicity)
- A professor who teaches Death & Dying, Ethics, Marketing, etc.
- A person with video/audio experience to turn presentations into Youtube videos.
All boards need to have a policy requiring board members to donate to the organization to the best of their means, and to be part of fundraising efforts. With a giving policy in place, prospective board members will know what is expected of them before they join, and before a donor puts them on the spot by asking, “Has all your board given to the organization?”
Building an Effective Volunteer Corps: Recruiting and Maintaining your Board of Directors
Now that you have zeroed in on the qualities and skills you are seeking in prospective board members (for example, you need a treasurer, a social media coordinator, etc.), it is time to focus on recruiting and maintaining your newly reinvigorated board!
How to Find New Board Members
- Form a recruiting task force: Sit with your board and make a list of 20 well-connected people of the type you would love to have on your board but who you figure wouldn’t do it –but might know someone who would. Call them and invite them to come to a single meeting. Explain that you will be telling them about FCA, your mission, services and potential, what you’re looking for in board members and that at the end they’ll be asked simply for the name of one person they think would be a good board member. At the meeting, prepare a short presentation of what FCA does and end with a funny or touching story that conveys the value of FCA and our mission (ask FCA for one if you don’t have one).The next day, call each person who was recommended.
- Ask each of your current board members to bring the names of three potential board members to your next board meeting. At a minimum, the referring board member needs to be able to articulate why they think the person is a good match. Invite the candidates to a board meeting or have a couple of board members meet privately with them.
- Make friends with your local hospice. A social worker is an especially good match because of her focus on social justice issues. A hospice physician, nurse or chaplain is also a great choice.
- See if there are home funeral consultants in your area. We share many values and interests.
- Contact a friend or colleague who’s affiliated with a local university and see if they can identify professors of public health, management, death and dying, or an administrative dean.
- Consider your membership. Are there people who’ve written thank you notes or stuffed envelopes who might help in other ways? Have you gotten calls from people who shared their own passionate stories of being wronged or those who’ve been appreciative of your help?
- Make an appointment with the head of a local corporate foundation or corporate giving department. Explain your organization’s work and the kind of board members you are seeking. It’s likely that the executive staff of the corporation are already on boards and might like to see their junior members join boards for community goodwill and leadership development.
- Ask your co-workers, friends and family for suggestions.
- Use the online forum at www.funerals.org or the listserv to ask other affiliates where they found their good board members.
- See if your community has a board recruitment program through the United Way, a volunteer center, or a technical assistance organization.
Cattle calls are less effective because they don’t make a link between the need and what the individual can offer. But, if you must…
- Place ads on bulletin boards, in your newsletter, in the neighborhood newspaper, in the alumni newsletter of a local college, etc. Example: “HELP FCA YOUR TOWN… We’re looking for a few talented and conscientious volunteer board members to lead and strengthen our work protecting grieving families from funeral fraud and overspending. If you can contribute your time, thoughtfulness, and leadership one evening a month and are interested in exploring this opportunity, please contact us to find out whether this volunteer opportunity is right for you.”
- Post “Great Board Member Wanted” ads on your local community website and on those that match people seeking boards with nonprofits seeking board members such as www.boardnetusa.org or www.volunteermatch.org
How to ask
Most people who have served on a nonprofit board know what they are doing and why they want to do it. However, you may have your eye on someone with no board experience. When you reach out to someone, be sure to emphasize the positive aspects of volunteering:
- Your volunteering will be a great help for for FCA:
- Your skills are needed.
- Our affiliate will benefit from your contributions.
- Your volunteering will enrich your community – and you:
- Potential to effect change and have an impact.
- Feel good by doing good.
- Give back to the local community.
- Enjoy collaborating with interesting people who have the same values.
- Opportunity to learn new skills.
- It is fun!
Be prepared to speak to potential board members
Have an application and an information handout with you – you may meet people unexpectedly! You can also ask for an email or text number to send them the handout. The handout should include basic contact info plus special skills or expertise (fundraising, finances, PR, databases, legal, newsletters), professional background, education, other professional affiliations, other board service, special interests or hobbies.
Lastly, don’t be scared someone will say no. You might get turned down a lot, but aim high. No one is going to be insulted by being asked.
Most people know little about your affiliate or the work you do. Invite a prospective member to meet with one or two board members.
- Why are you interested in our organization?
- Why are you interested in serving on a board?
- Do you have any previous board service, leadership, or volunteer experience? Are you presently serving on any boards?
- What kinds of skills or expertise can you offer? How will the organization benefit from your participation? How do you think we could best take advantage of your expertise?
- What expectations do you have for serving on a board that would make your experience more satisfying?
- What kind of time and financial commitment will you be able to make? Are you willing to serve on committees and task forces? Can we expect you to come to board meetings regularly? Would you be able to make a personal contribution?
Consider a contract
A simple contract or acknowledgement of responsibilities makes it clear you are asking for a serious commitment. It can be as general as “I understand that there will be a 2-hour board meeting once a month, committee meetings once a quarter, that I will be asked to participate in planning and attending the annual meeting, etc…”
Disclosure of conflict of interest
While people in the funeral industry cannot serve in a voting capacity, there are others who might have areas of conflict. All board members need to sign this form. FCA can give you one.
Orient new members
Give them enough knowledge about the organization and their role that they can get to work. Ask existing board members what they wished they’d known and what would’ve helped them get up and running faster. Give them:
- The mission, vision and values of the organization
- Some of the organization’s history
- A copy of bylaws
- The current budget
- The roles and responsibilities of the board and staff (if any)
- An administrative calendar that shows ongoing major activities of the board
- A list of current and planned committees
- How the board conducts meetings (Robert’s rules of order, Sturgis, etc.)
Put them to work
Involve new members as soon as possible in relevant current projects or new committees. Make room for new ideas and approaches. New recruits who hear “we’ve always done it this way” will give up, leaving you back where you started.
Ongoing support and recognition
Remember to thank your board members from time to time. Everyone on the Board is a volunteer, and their efforts should be recognized.
Training and development
Continue the training of new board members and keep older ones engaged by occasionally having a guest speaker, a presentation by one of the board members, inviting board members to area seminars and conferences held by other organizations, etc.
Tips to reduce your workload
Put a donor button on your website so you are not collecting checks at a PO box, or going to the bank etc.
Automate clerical work by setting PayPal to send thank you receipts. You may also recruit a volunteer to receive notifications, and to add members to your spreadsheet or database.
Post all your forms, and all relevant information and content, on your website. This will reduce your calls and requests for help.
Don’t collect people’s private information. Store only what is needed to send members legislative alerts and updates about new laws or new procedures to exercise their rights. If you broker a contracted funeral home discount, let the funeral director take care of any private info they want to collect.
Stop trying to get more donations than you need to run the show. Automation has reduced costs.
Consider not being 501c3. For example, Utah spent 21 years never bringing in more than $400/year. Why bother with the 501c3 filings and notifications to members, hierarchy of leadership, annual dues and annual meetings? Just be a non-profit, unbiased, all volunteer resource for consumers. It only costs $150/yr to run a simple website.