How to Handle Nonprofit Boards Who Won't Play Nice
I’m often asked by frazzled executive directors and well-meaning board members whether it’s reasonable or unreasonable to expect everyboard member to be involved in fundraising. My answer is yes.
How can we have it both ways? We have to define our terms. A nonprofit board has a special fiduciary role and responsibility to assure fulfillment of the organization’s mission. Money must come in the doors. A wonderful series of articles on financing not fundraising your organization (Social Velocity Blog) clues us in to the advantage of making our definition of “bringing money in the door” very broad.
If we give our board members reachable goals they’re more likely to attain them.
Let’s start with the fact that board members wear two gloves: (1) the glove of the board as a whole, and (2) the glove of the individual board member. Wearing the board glove, the responsibility is to make governance decisions (the “talk”). Wearing the member glove, the responsibility is to act in a manner to assure the board’s decisions are carried out (the “walk”).
If these do not go hand in hand, the organization will operate at a severe handicap.
How do we hearten board members to “talk” and “walk” at the same time?
|We must give voice to what’s in our hearts.|
We start by helping them find their voice . I like to connect/reconnect folks to their passion for the mission. Help them find the fire in their belly that inspires philanthropy. What drew them to the organization? What stories inspired them? What values are they invested in furthering? How is our organization helping them feel better about themselves and their contribution to society? Sure, there are some who just want to pad their resume. But more often than not this is just an accusation leveled by a staff that is not doing its job to engage its board. Like anyone else, boards need to be nurtured and coached. Otherwise, it’s unreasonable to ask them to go to bat.
Most board members truly want to be helpful.
|We have to learn to walk|
Next, we help them find accessible ways they can take a stand. Of course, we need them all to be involved in helping us raise more money. Money is what makes the nonprofit viable. It’s reasonable to put this responsibility on all members, rather than excusing those who say they don’t like to ask. There is more than one way to skin this cat.
For some excellent resources on a range of “ambassador”, “advocate” and “asking” strategies, check out:
|If we think big, we can achieve the implausible.|
Also, we need to put financing/fundraising within a larger strategic context. If the board doesn’t see the big picture, they’re going to think too small. Small brings us down rather than lifting us up. It limits our vision and potential. Engage the board in strategic planning retreats (once every three years is good). It’s reasonable to expect the board to help raise funds to fulfill directions they’ve authorized.
If they create the plan they will be more invested in seeing it through to fruition.
Most important? Respectfully and persuasively secure a passionate gift from every board member. It’s reasonable to stick to the adage that if you’re going to preach religion you have to get religion. If someone is serving on a board, and not making a stretch gift that is significant to them, then they shouldn’t be on the board. They should volunteer or join a committee or just be a donor (and all of these are laudable ways to be involved). Because if boards don’t walk the talk, how can’t they expect to persuade anyone else to do so?