Here’s what I’ve learned after working with more than 100 boards:Virtually every organization is frustrated with their board’s personal giving and involvement in fundraising, and everyone thinks their situation is unique. In fact, most small to mid-sized organizations (which is most organizations!) are more similar than not and the solution is generally the same.
The ideal nonprofit board member is more than a couple deep pockets. In fact, if your directors don't possess these four critical traits, your organization could be missing out on any number of strategic opportunities.
As one of the leading personalized nonprofit board matching services in the country, we get asked quite a lot, “what can my board be doing better to win at the board recruiting game?” We would answer that your board is already way ahead of a lot of other nonprofits if they understand that board recruiting is indeed a competitive sport, with not enough terrific board members available to fill all the board seats that open up each year. That’s the first step.
In my years of consulting, I suppose I've worked with 30,000 volunteer and professional fundraisers. Perhaps as many as 50,000. They come in all sizes and shapes and ethnic backgrounds. Tall, short. Heavy, thin. I've seen it all.
The mission of your organization is its most prized treasure—to be taken out for public display, to be cherished, and to be polished regularly to maintain its luster and value. Your mission isn't a recital of where you've been. It speaks eloquently as to where you're going.
You make certain your organization has the financial resources to meet its mission. Money makes this happen. Board members cannot abdicate their responsibility for raising funds. They cannot allow a mission deficit.
Trustees must be willing to give. This is what transforms vision into reality. If those closest don't give, it is a serious failure, a decaying of moral fortitude, determination, and dedication.
You bring to each board meeting a probing, challenging, open mind. You ask, What are we achieving? Are we meeting our mission? What are the dreams and visions for the future?
Understand that your organization doesn't have needs. The people you serve have needs. You have the answer. The response. The solution.
It is an unforgiving failure if you come to a board meeting unprepared. If you're not familiar with what is happening, it sets a course for a rudderless journey in stormy waters. No compass, no direction, no bearings, no future.
Policy determination is the province of the board and the board only. Policy execution is the responsibility of the staff. You are admonished not to meddle. There ought to be a "No Trespassing" sign firmly in place.
You never lose sight that your organization is in the business of empowering and enriching lives.
Complacency and even graduate growth are the enemies of organizational vitality. There's plenty of room at the bottom for the organization willing to limp along and live on past laurels.
It is amazing, the wondrous things that can be achieved when a staff receives its proper recognition. Including salary recognition. You provide accord and acclaim for good performance.
There are four levels of trustees. Those who make things happen. Those who watch things happen. Those to whom things happen. And those who don't even know what's happening. Your job is to make things happen.
As a board member, you are less concerned about how things are done and greatly concerned about why things are done.
The financial statement doesn't tell the story of your organization. The bottom line cannot be counted in dollars. The true net worth can only be measure in how you affect the lives of those you serve.
A ho-hum board begets a ho-hum institution. Plain vanilla. No soaring hopes. No exciting aspirations. No creative solutions. It will never be able to respond to human and social needs. Your responsibility is to be continuously vigilant. To review, package, and revitalize the program.
As a trustee, you are an advocate. You carry the flag. More than anyone, you're the goodwill ambassador and tell the organization's story whenever and wherever possible. Be a roaring enthusiast. Tell everyone about the amazing work your organization is doing.
As a board member, you are among the chosen few. Lives are being changed and saved because of you. You're the noble souls raising funds to provide the scholarships, heal the sick, feed the hungry, build the buildings, furnish the equipment, and find the cures.
You dream the unthinkable. Attempt the impossible. It is the magic of your involvement that leads your organization to success.
You will forever be, to use Ernest Hemingway's salute: "The winner and undisputed champion."
The proceding is a guest post by Jerold Panas the author of The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, Making a Case Your Donors Will Love, Asking, and Mega Gifts: Who Gives Them, Who Gets Them.
A key responsibility of nonprofit board members is to assure that the organization has sufficient resources to fulfill its mission. There are many indirect aspects of this—helping with outreach in the community, serving on a finance committee to provide fiduciary oversight, etc. But the most direct and perhaps most impactful is fundraising. While many board members embrace the prospect of helping with fundraising, others run in the opposite direction.
Most folks who aren't regularly engaged in fundraising equate the entire process with "The Ask." There are, however, plenty of steps leading up to and following the actual ask that a board member who is uncomfortable with asking for donations can help with. Here are the top ways in which volunteers can help with resource development and without realizing they're actually fundraising.
This fundraising question comes from Tom, who writes:
"I can't convince my ED that we should have a board retreat. Can you help?"
Yes, Tom! I can help! Thanks for asking.
First, I would want you to find out what your executive director's objection to a board retreat is? Are they concerned about time? Money? And, maybe they don't see the value or benefit. So let's start there.
Board Retreats Are Different from Board Meetings
Let me start by saying that board retreats should not simply be longer versions of your normal board meeting. They should be noticeably different from your regular board meetings, and have a distinct feel and purpose.
For example, the items that normally appear on your board meeting agenda should not appear on the agenda for your retreat—especially reports! There should be no regular committee reports at your retreat.
And, in order to make them feel different, a board retreat should take place in a different location, if at all possible. But you don't need to spend a lot of money on a fancy retreat location—although wouldn't that be nice! Hopefully one of your board members has a conference room you can use for your retreat. All you need are chairs, tables, an easel, and a few flip charts.
Pros & Cons of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator
Another thing to think about when planning for a board retreat are the pros and cons of using an outside facilitator. I'll admit, I'm totally biased on this subject, because facilitating board retreats is one of my favorite parts of my work. But also because I truly believe there are strong benefits to having a professional facilitating your retreat.
That said, here's a quick list of pros and cons, starting with the cons.
The Cons of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator
The only con I can think of is the cost. Honestly, there isn't any other downside.
And if you think of the fee of the facilitator as an investment in getting your board and staff more engaged and prepared to help with fundraising, then it's actually an investment in your nonprofit, and you can move it over to the "pro" column.
The Pros of Hiring a Board Retreat Facilitator
So let's get to the pros—three essential reasons to have a professional facilitator.
Get an outside perspective.
Board members pay more attention to an outsider. They are less inclined to be distracted by work or phone calls.
Staff can participate.
When you have an outside facilitator, staff can participate too—and don't have to worry about the agenda or personalities in the room.
Professional board retreat facilitators are trained and experienced, and usually well worth it.
Board Retreats on a Budget
If you truly can't afford a retreat facilitator, consider swapping executive directors or development directors for a day with another organization, and you lead their retreat and let them lead yours. You won't have the benefits of having a professional facilitator, but you will get the benefits of having an outsider.
Okay, I think I've gotten a little carried away with the whole facilitator thing, so let's get back to Tom's question about how to convince his boss to have a retreat in the first place.
Three Vital Reasons to have a Board Retreat
Remember, there are three key reasons for having an annual board retreat:
These are all critical topics for your board, and an annual retreat is the best place to start tackling these important issues.
Now, if you are only focused on strategic planning at your retreat, which I find to be the case in about half the organizations I work with, my question to you is this ...
How do you expect to pay to implement your plans if your board members aren't engaged in fundraising? You can have the best plans in the world, but if you can't fund them, what good are they?
So, having a retreat to discuss both planning and fundraising are critical!
Watch the Video!
The preceding is a guest post by Amy Eisenstein. Recognized as a leading expert in her field, she's helped small and large nonprofits alike raise millions of dollars through major gift and capital campaigns, board development, annual fund campaigns, direct mail, and planned gift solicitations. Amy's primary mission is to make nonprofit development simple, helping them to clear away the complexity and raise funds much more effectively.
When I work with boards, we inevitably get around to discussing the issue of fundraising. "How many of you really like asking for money?" I ask. On a great day, one-third of the hands will go up. On an average day, one-fourth or fewer. The others groan, smile with embarrassment, and then tell me why they don't like to ask for money.
Although their reasons are understandable, they beg the question.
Here's a dilemma. Your organization has a new board member—let's call her Maisie.
She is personally wealthy and knows a lot of people who could be prospects for major gifts (indeed, that's why you asked her to join the board and were thrilled when she accepted). You hope she'll provide entree to a whole new donor pool.
Maisie comes to her first development committee meeting. She's already promised to do her share. You present her with logical prospects to solicit and anticipate great results. But in every instance Maisie's response is the same. "Well of course I know them. But I couldn't possibly ask them for money." Then the next sentence is either "They're some of my closest friends" or "They're relatives."
What to do? For the moment, let's discuss what you shouldn't do:
First, don't insist. It's amazing how many of us do, often with poor results. We don't want to accept a no from someone like Maisie because we're certain she'll succeed. But if Maisie isn't comfortable asking, of if she does agree reluctantly, then it's likely she'll be a terrible solicitor. If you push too hard, the whole thing could end unpleasantly—you might even find yourself minus a board member.
Second, be willing to put off soliciting some of the people you felt were perfect prospects for Maisie—at least for a while. Once she has her feet on the ground and has success asking others, she may change her mind. I've seen this happen countless times.
Third, don't let Maisie off the hook. She may not be the best solicitor, at least not yet, but there are other ways she can help.
As I explain in my book, How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money You Raise, I learned early on how the process works when people feel they can't approach family and friends. My parents, who were generous and willing to help raise money, were continually asked to serve on boards. No surprise there. But there was one group my mother and father never approached—relatives. There was an unwritten family rule—"We don't solicit one another." As you would guess, that frustrated a lot of organizations that had anticipated easy pickings when my parents joined their boards.
It frustrated my mother, too, as she did want to help financially. Fortunately, under the tutelage of a fundraising master, she learned just how to do that.
Roland was executive director of an organization where my mother served as a board member. She loved what the group did and wanted to improve their bottom line. "I wish there was something I could do," she told Roland."But I'd be booted out of the family."
"Oh, but you can help," Roland said. And over the next month, he and my mother and the development staff developed a list of key family members with my mother telling them everything she knew about each one—age, occupation, interests, children with ages and where they went to school, things their children had done of which they were particularly proud. It was an information dump so large my mother wondered how it could possibly be useful.
But useful it was. As Roland and his staff and other board members met the relatives, they were primed. As such, they could link aspects of their organization's activities to areas of interest for each family member. Sometimes it led nowhere ... but occasionally a connection was made. And as one family member after another came into the fold, the dominoes started to fall and many became donors.
Board members have a special status in the game of donor cultivation. Their word offers more credibility than a staff member's. So talking up an organization, telling a prospect why doing board service is so satisfying, can be a critical first step in introducing that individual to an organization. In fact, when I conduct board trainings, I tell each member that every gathering they attend is a cultivation event, and if they don't have at least one conversation with a potential donor, then these board members aren't doing their job.
There is one last area of donor cultivation uniquely suited to a board member—that of cultivating fellow trustees. If you've been in the field for long, you're aware that no group of individuals has more responsibility for giving than the board. Yet often their giving potential is under-realized.
That's why each trustee should be thought of as a prospect and each should receive the kind of attention reserved for the most important donors. I always assume that a trustee will give more if properly cultivated. This is not a job for staff—only fellow trustees can do it. And when they do it well, everyone feels good.
The preceding is a guest post by Thomas Wolf, a principal with the consulting firm WolfBrown. He is the author of How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money You Raise. Among his other books is Effective Leadership for Nonprofit Organizations: How Executive Directors and Boards Work Together.
Have you looked at a board member's name and thought, "When did we see that person last?" Or do you have board members who show up physically at meetings but aren't working on any projects, don't participate in discussions, and haven't contributed in any way to the board's work?
Most nonprofit boards have deadwood at one time or another. And many nonprofit leaders suffer some degree of angst in deciding what to do about it. Can we get the person off the board voluntarily? If we force him or her off the board, will there be repercussions from other board members or stakeholders? The best test to get over any self-doubt about pruning deadwood from your board is to ask yourself, "What could we accomplish if we had an active, energetic, and engaged board member in that slot?"
Inactive board members aren't necessarily bad people. They may, in fact, have actively contributed to the board's work early in their tenure. Life changes and priorities shift. Maybe they've over-committed, or maybe the work of the board has changed enough to leave these board members behind. There are also board members who looked great on paper when they were recruited but for whatever reason never really engaged and or found their role on the board.
When confronted with deadwood on your board, it's worth stepping back and trying to determine why a member is not active. It's possible that the situation can be remedied. Perhaps you need to have a conversation about expectations for board members, offer a new committee assignment, or even suggest a short sabbatical from the board to resolve business or personal issues that are monopolizing the board member's time.
When you've exhausted the possibilities of firing up an inactive board member, it's time to look at how to graciously remove him or her from the board and free up that slot. It's important that this be a board-driven process and not simply the executive director's initiative. If the executive director takes the lead, it's akin to firing the boss (which may be tempting at times, but not very practical). Certainly the executive director should be aware of what's happening, and he or she might actually be helping in the background.
A little research is called for at this point. When does the board member's term expire? The best time to ask someone to vacate the board is when the end of his or her term is coming up; in fact, you can just not renew the term. A corollary would be to evaluate all board members' activity levels as terms expire and address inactive board members then. Hopefully the bylaws clearly define terms for board members. Two-year terms are the most common, but there are other durations.
Ideally when the end of board members' terms are coming up, the board chair can call them individually to discuss their recommitment to the board. A conversation with an inactive board member can discuss whether or not his or her situation will be changing or if he or she has an interest in continuing on the board in a more active role. If the board member has disengaged so much that a phone conversation isn't possible or practical, the board chair should write a letter. The letter can thank the board member for past service, state that the chair is sorry that the member hasn't been able to participate more, and note that the term will not be renewed. It should also say to let the chair know if the board member's situation changes in the future and he or she would like to reengage with the board.
I've had very interesting experiences with these phone calls and letters—all very positive! Never have I had a (soon to be former) board member get upset. They seemed to be looking for a gracious way to exit an organization that they've lost interest in and appreciated the ability to go quietly. There's almost a sigh of relief. And from the organization's standpoint, there's now an open board slot to fill with new blood!
The preceding is a guest post by Bill Hoffman. Bill has more than 30 years' expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, having worked at all levels of nonprofit organizations, including serving as chief executive of a $6 million education foundation for 9 years. He and his firm have written and presented on topics ranging from board development to community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices in national, regional, and state publications and symposia.