How to Make the Most of Your Nonprofit Board's Rolodexes

Nonprofit board.
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Nonprofit leaders have a valuable resource hidden in plain sight. It's their board members. Your board is not just for fundraising or decision-making. Its relationship capital is worth a lot more. It can help meet many of your organization's needs.

Combine the connections your board members have built over their careers with the right opportunity, and your nonprofit could see an explosion in fundraising, better donor retention, and even board member recruitment. Peer-to-peer influence is the most useful kind of influence. And board members have some of the best peers around. Furthermore, engaging with their peers is easy for board members.

Emphasizing the importance of this peer influence is one way to overcome the natural reluctance many board members have about fundraising and friend-raising for your organization. One study found that the most successful nonprofits have boards that engage their network of contacts in support of their charity.

Dig Into Their Personal Experience

Your board members are highly successful professionals. It's hard to do that without building a network of other successful professionals across an array of industries and sectors. Each of your board members brings to the table a host of potential donors, partners and, yes, other board members.

Ask them to reach out to their networks early and often. Most people like being asked for help and an introduction is a natural favor your board member can grant. Remember this as you recruit new members—deep pockets are nice, but in the absence of a fat checkbook, what about a fat Rolodex?

Tap Their Social Media Networks

Social media is an often untapped asset of your board members, specifically, their Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. Even if their followers already know your organization, hearing about it from a ​trustworthy and credible source helps extend your reach in new and exciting ways with virtually no resources spent on your part.

If you have younger board members, urging them to use their social media accounts to boost your organization will not be seen as an imposition but a fun opportunity.

Encourage your board members to post about events they attend, new program initiatives and client success stories. Enthusiastic board members can significantly help your social marketing and fundraising campaigns. Take the initiative and provide suggestions, content, and great images that your board members can use to spread the word.

Pump Up Their Public Appearances

Your leadership team and staff are not the only faces of your organization. Board members who attend your special events can make key introductions to new donors and potential corporate partners.

Just as important, these men and women can speak to your organization's mission, goals, and operations, freeing you up to work the room. Ask them to host events, speak at them, or otherwise participate in the program. Make it easy for board members to act as ambassadors at all times, particularly in any events.

Look to Their Previous Nonprofit Experience

Board members often have served on other nonprofit boards and likely maintain a vibrant network of community-minded people. 

Have you asked your board members to share their contacts from their previous or current nonprofit experience? This can be a rich source of potential new board recruits—especially if the member in question is retiring and needs a replacement—as well as donors, advisors and event speakers.

We're not talking about poaching people away from another nonprofit. Rather, your board member can make introductions to donors he or she worked, who may ​also be interested in your mission. Looking for a keynote speaker for your next fundraiser? Your board may have connections to big names through previous charitable work. It never hurts to ask—in fact, it often pays.

Use Relationship Mapping

In approaching your board members about accessing their network, you're trying to solve for an unknown: who do these men and women know that you don't?

You can efficiently and effectively solve for this variable by investing in relationship mapping technology, which can give insight into how far your board's network extends. All it takes is a list of your board members' contacts and the right platform to create paths to the individuals, corporations and other organizations that can make a difference for your nonprofit.

Even if you don't invest in some help in this mapping, you can improve how you tap your board's relationships by simply thinking about and diagramming all the relationships you can find. Use mind mapping methods and even inexpensive services to help.

Regardless of how you choose to leverage your board members' relationships, what's critical is that you ask board members to share their contacts. Chances are, your board members are looking for ways to engage with your organization in addition to the financial support they provide. By tapping their networks, they can help you even more. When board members share their networks, everybody wins.