"We [board members] do this huge amount of work, and we're volunteers, but the staff never seems to have any response but criticism for us not doing more!"
"I'm the executive director, and the board just seems to focus on what we haven't accomplished, instead of giving me credit for all the things I have accomplished!"
How many times have we heard (or thought) something similar? Despite admonishments to "give positive feedback," it often seems that efforts between board and staff of appreciation feel trivial at best, and even hypocritical or enraging at worst. What are some ways to express authentic appreciation that are meaningful to the recipient, and send the right message about values? Seven quick ideas:
1. The day after a board meeting, whatever your role, phone the two people who helped make it a good meeting–the board president, the executive director, the treasurer or anyone who helped move a discussion forward. A quick phone message can be remarkably encouraging.
2. To acknowledge a board member: write a proclamation unique to the board member, and print and frame it, celebrating the board chair's running the board meetings especially well, or a member negotiating the new lease, or the treasurer helping to choose new accounting software.
3. For the staff as a group: as part of understanding that attracting and retaining the right staff is crucial to an organization's success, have an annual board discussion on the subject. Start (for instance) with a report from the executive director and Finance Committee on current salaries and what comparable salaries might be at similar nonprofits. They can also bring a plan to board, perhaps taking a two-pronged approach: some near-term raises for the positions that are the most underpaid, and undertake a 3-year process to increase salaries in an affordable way. Make sure this is communicated to staff so that the seriousness with which the board takes the matter and the reality of budget constraints are understood.
4. Ask the executive director to suggest to the board individual staff for recognition by the board. The board can then pass a board resolution detailing accomplishments, and have a board member present it and read it aloud at a staff meeting.
5. As a new board president or at the start of the year, attend a staff meeting. As a volunteer leader, explain how you and the board see your most important tasks over the coming year, and invite questions and comments.
6. For a coalition or an association where board members work at other organizations and also spend considerable time in board service, consider grants to their organizations to show the value of the board service, and help pay, for example, for substitutes or overtime work performed.
7. Where possible, have the organization pay for travel expenses for board members, to demonstrate that board membership is not based on ability to pay.
On the other hand, keep in mind some things not to do:
- Staff should not say, "Board members, thank you for helping us." Unintentionally this implies that the staff is the core of the organization and board members are ancillary participants who are the helpers to staff. Instead, say, "I'm proud to work for an organization with a board that __________ as effectively as ours does — or "I'm grateful to work for an organization where board members contribute so much."
- Board members shouldn't say, "Thank you, staff, for doing all the administrative things we hate doing (heard, for example, in a mostly volunteer organization). Instead, say, "I really value the way your work makes it possible for volunteers to do so much more."
Celebrate accomplishments and getting through tough periods. Present small gifts and certificates, for example, to all the members of the board-staff strategic planning committee, or to the executive director search committee, or the group that "œsuccessfully got us through the accreditation process."
These quick ideas are, of course, only part of a larger picture for how both appreciation and criticism are shared. Consider taking up just one or two these ideas, and see how people can bloom in their roles when given meaningful thanks and praise.
See also in Blue Avocado: