March 29, 2013

A Board’s Travels Inspire Bonding, Fresh Ideas, and Bigger Gifts

When was the last time you hit the road with your board? Whether you go across town or around the world, a mission trip brings the board together in a unique and wonderful way that pays dividends for years to come.

Last year my husband Frank, and I went to Costa Rica with the board of the Friends of the Children’s Eternal Rainforest. My natural habitat is a mall, and I’m terrified of snakes. But as a board member, I committed to going to Costa Rica every other year on my dime. And on this trip, I was with a group of people who lived to see the deadly viper fer-de-lance.

Board members brought spouses and children. Our kids were not available because of work commitments, so we brought Emilio, our little brother from Big Brothers Big Sisters. The trip was magical. By the time we got home, we were planning the next trip and Frank had started studying Spanish. After the trip, board members were more committed, produced more work, and gave more money.

Here’s what can you achieve from a mission trip:

Board bonding. When you meet for a couple of hours every month or so, there is only so much bonding you can do. There are many reasons why it is important to know your fellow board members: You want to build trust so that you can respectfully disagree. You want to know the strengths of your fellow board members so you make sure that you ask the right questions. You want trustees to look forward to board meetings because they are going to see people they like and respect.

The Mission. You come home with stories of how your mission is playing out. If you’re on the board of a hospital that has a new piece of equipment, invite your friends and donors to see what it can do. If it’s an arts organization and you travel across town for a rehearsal or across the country to see how other groups are presenting works of art, you come back with fresh ideas or perhaps a new appreciation of how spectacular your group is. Either way, you have a story to tell.

Fundraising. When you go on a mission trip, you also see the gaps. Do you need to raise more funds for a particular project? What could be done better? You meet the people doing the work on the ground and get their point of view.

Paying for your Trip. Board members need to pay their own way. If you are a local organization with a limited budget, carpool to a nonprofit doing similar work and spend a few hours seeing how others address the issues of your cause. Plan a meal at the end to debrief. If you choose to have an expensive trip, give people at least 18 months to save for the venture. Let them know when they join that this is part of the responsibility of being a board member. And before anything else, make sure that you discuss and vote to be sure the board is really behind the idea.

Nothing inspires like going as a group to see how people are changing the world. You won’t regret it. (And you may also get frequent flyer miles!)