Want to jumpstart board engagement? Try simple maintenance.

Mechanic attaching jumper cables to car battery

Sometimes, a jumpstart is all that is needed to get things going.

If you are a board member or executive that wants to increase engagement among board members at your organization, take small steps, and perform one more of these routine maintenance activities to jumpstart your board engagement today.

#1 Review the mission of your organization.

Does your mission justify your existence?

A mission statement of an organization helps the people connected to it understand the purpose and reason why the organization exists. It is the responsibility of the board of directors of the organization to make sure the statement clearly promotes what the organization is, what it represents, and what the organization does. One way to ensure the mission statement continues to be acceptable, accurate, and capable of working successfully for the organization, is for the board of directors to review the mission statement annually.

Is it compelling?

Your mission statement tells everyone why the organization is different from other organizations. So, in addition to the organization’s goals, means, and the primary audience served, the board of directors could also make sure the statement presents compelling reasons for individuals, foundations, and corporations to support the organization.

Does the mission invite engagement?

A mission statement should serve as:

  • A guide for strategic planning.
  • For decision-making by the board and staff.
  • To guide volunteer initiatives.
  • To set priorities among competing demands for resources.
  • To develop fundraising strategies.

The board of directors can review these matters and how they are serving the mission of the organization in addition to the other responsibilities of the board.

#2 Look at your resources.

Make sure that your resources are a team effort.

The development or fundraising committee alone should not shoulder all the responsibility for initiatives in this area. Fundraising is not a singular individual contribution, equating their own individual annual contribution to a “one and done” effort. Fundraising is a full board function. The designated committee is simply the board’s agent to help coordinate the work of the board’s members, executives, and fundraising staff.

Has each member of the board made their annual contribution?

When each member of the board provides an annual financial gift, their personal and collective example is very important. In addition to being able to report 100 percent participation to potential and past supporters, board members are better fundraisers when they know they have done their part. The amount of personal giving by board members is less important than the extent of their participation that gives the organization the ability to claim that 100 percent of its board are donors.

Is your executive prepared?

Of course, the members of the board want to provide adequate resources to meet the purposes of the organization and their responsibility. And it is perfectly appropriate to consider the top executive as the chief fundraiser, but in this area, it is the board that determines what is really possible to achieve.

Think about the executive, the director of development, and how they are linked to the performance of the board. Do board members have the abilities to:

  • Open doors?
  • Influence potentially large donors?
  • Monitor and guide fundraising initiatives?

Fundraising is one measure of the board’s performance capabilities, commitment, and influence. One helpful thing board members can do each year is to inventory their own connections with potentially helpful givers.

Is there support for you executive?

Where else can the chief executive seek the kind of moral and substantive support they consistently need but from their board. Although this responsibility is often manifested through the board’s top elected officer, it remains a board function. Some boards have found it useful to assign this responsibility to its executive committee. This helps, but the board as a whole should be satisfied that the chief executive:

  • Is introduced to other community leaders and organizations.
  • Is invited to important social functions.
  • Is complimented for exceptional initiatives.
  • Is encouraged to take professional and personal leave for renewal.
  • Is assisted when members overstep prerogatives or misunderstand their roles.
  • Feels that the board is aware of and sensitive to family situations and needs.
  • Feels that his/her performance is being assessed in relation to the board’s
  • performance.

Review your case statement for engagement.

Another way the board can help in this matter is to periodically review its case statement. This is a written statement of need that extends in more detail what is presented in the organization’s statement of mission and purposes. A case statement is helpful when seeking funds for a special project or program or for more unrestricted purposes. The case offers a clear answer to why the organization needs money and how it will be used.

#3 Check your planning.

Who is doing what and why, and is it okay?

Planning can help people to answer questions such as, “Why are we doing this?” “Is this okay?” “Whose call is this?” and “Who do we need to tell about this?” and to know when to ask such questions.

Is there capacity to plan?

A nonprofit needs range of capabilities, knowledge, and resources to be effective in achieving its mission. Organizational capacity is multifaceted and continually evolving.

Make capacity-building an everyday occurrence to inspire and improve decision-making. Capacity building can be any activity that strengthens the ability of the organization, for example, strategic planning, board development, operational improvements, and technology upgrades. Also, conducting regular needs assessments, organizational assessments, knowledge management assessments, and program evaluations.

Do you have a succession plan?

Some nonprofit organizations have strong programs and activities but no leadership succession plan. For a nonprofit in that position, succession planning is key to protecting and prolonging its effectiveness, and building capacity.

Are your committees active and productive?

The board’s committee structure offers particularly helpful opportunities to engage board members in certain areas. Functional areas not obviously tied to board standing committees could be made part of the executive committee or full board agendas.

#4 Review your programs and services.

Given limited resources and unlimited demands on them, the board must decide among competing priorities. Financial and programmatic decisions should not be made independently. Ask if your current and proposed programs and services are consistent with the organization’s stated mission and purposes.

#5 Conduct a performance assessment.

The board and its executive should stand back, every three years or so, to reflect on how the board is meeting its responsibilities. This process should include a look at the composition of the board, its selection process, organization or structure, and overall performance to find ways it can be strengthened. This process is effectively conducted by a qualified third-party facilitator outside the boardroom and combined with opportunities to socialize in order to strengthen camaraderie and trust among board members and between the board and the executive.

Ready for more?

Review your vision, management, technology, service delivery and support, finance, and human resources.

If you are stuck, read this.

There is a folk tale from India known as “The Blind Men and the Elephant”. This is a must-read for board members and can be found on the Peace Corps page at this link.


  • Start small and let one successful board engagement build on another.
  • Keep track of your activities to form an annual maintenance schedule and use it to keep your organization running smoothly for years to come.


Start small, especially if board engagement has been inactive or slow. Engagement among board members did not diminish overnight and needs will and a bit of time to reignite. Keep track of your activities to form an annual maintenance schedule and use it. Best to start today.

Do you have comments about this article or want to talk more about it?

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Photo credit

The photo used in this article is called, “Mechanic attaching jumper cables to a car battery”, and was taken by photographer People Creations and is available on Pikwizard.

Find more information like this

You can find more information for board members and executives in my blog, Alamode”.

Thank you.

Thank you for reading this article. I appreciate your time.

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