I unlocked Pandora’s box with my last post, 5 Things Your Board and CEO Don’t Get About Fundraising and Donors. Especially when it comes to board members, many of you say their behavior has you scratching your heads much of the time. So, here are 5 more things that too many boards simply don’t seem to understand:
1. It costs money to make money. This one is odd, since many of these folks seem to understand the concept of ‘investment’ when it comes to their day jobs. When they cross your nonprofit’s threshold, however, they suddenly seem to take off their business bowlers, fiscally savvy fedoras and even their common sense caps.. They put on their conservative hats. No one is going to accuse them of trying to make money, no siree! One example is spending money on donor acquisition. Board members don’t get this. What? It costs money upfront that we may not make back for a few years? Don’t even bother trying to persuade them that investing in the future is a smart strategy. They stopped listening when you said “first, this will lose money.”
2. Using their connections on your behalf is part of their job. Many fall back on “that’s not appropriate” or “I think it’s rude to talk about what I do” with my friends. But that’s part of the reason you recruited them – to use their contacts! Smart organizations recruit board members from different walks of life precisely to broaden the circles of influence they can reach. If your board member has lots of contacts, but won’t use them, then they should simply go back to being a donor and open up the board space to someone willing to be an effective ambassador.
3. Fundraising is part of their job. This is a corollary to not wanting to share contacts. You know these folks. The ones who say “I’ll do anything but fundraising.” What they fail to understand is that they have a dual fiduciary role: (1) as a board setting policy and direction and approving budgets, and (2) as an individual board member who walks the talk to make the policies and programs come to fruition – including generating the funds needed to balance the budget. Otherwise, they’re merely creating unfunded mandates (they may as well go work for Congress).
4. Just because it worked someplace else doesn’t mean it will work here. ” One reader wrote:” I worked at an organization with a very local focus, yet I was being pushed to use Twitter in an attempt to attract donors from across the country who didn’t know anything about us. The thought was that if we had something exciting and innovative to tweet about, strangers would catch on and want to support us. I don’t need to report how well that went.”
5. Building an endowment is not a luxury. Several readers despaired that their board does not understand the long-term need to build an endowment portfolio. This has always surprised me as well. When I ask folks if they think it’s responsible to have only a checking account, and no savings account, they get it. But somehow they feel it’s morally wrong for nonprofits to have any savings. That leads to a living paycheck-to-paycheck mentality that makes long-term sustainability and planning extraordinarily difficult. And it’s such a shame, too, when loyal donors pass away without having even considered a gift to your organization that would have perpetuated their values.
This is not meant to be a litany against board members. In many cases the fault lies with the staff. It’s the staff’s job to care for and feed the board. Most board members are quite well intentioned; they’ve just never been on a nonprofit board before. They don’t know how nonprofits operate. They’re a little bit scared, but don’t want to admit it. Here’s how to help them:
- Develop a strong board orientation and training program. Create a handbook. Have recruits meet with key staff who will explain how development, finance, marketing and programs work. Give new members a seasoned board member as a buddy/mentor.
- Create a board development training program. Provide ongoing sessions on a range of topics (e.g., reading a nonprofit budget; public speaking; running effective meetings, nonprofit marketing, etc.). Provide an annual board training on solicitation.
- Hold periodic retreats. The best ones are focused (e.g., strategic plan; endowment building; capital campaign; board/staff relationships, etc.) and run by a seasoned facilitator.
- Build a strong board nominating/development committee. You wouldn’t even hire a nanny or housekeeper without lots of thought, interviews and references. Yet many organizations bring on board members just because they’re friends of other board members. You need a vigorous process. What type of skills do you need? What circles of influence in your community are underrepresented? Does the nominee understand the role you expect them to play? Is the nominee passionate about your mission?
- Meet individually with each board member on at least an annual basis. Find out their interests. Find out what’s not working for them. Ask for their advice. Develop a personal plan for each one so they feel good about their board service. Stay in touch. Build a personal relationship.
- Don’t let rotten apples spoil the barrel. If being on a board is unpleasant it’s a bad thing all around. Make sure, first, that you’ve got a good chairperson. This individual sets the tone. They should be passionate about your cause, compassionate with others and a good politician. They should understand the role of governance, the difference between your mission (what you do today) and your vision (where you hope to get one day) and the invaluable role that donor-investors play in getting you towards your goals. They should partner with the E.D., creating a team that cheer leads everyone else on. Second, make sure you have a process for removing board members who bring everyone else down. You’re doing no one any favors by keeping on “dead wood.” Consider a term limits policy to make rotating folks off the board a natural process.
Finally, remember that true leaders – board and staff — are those who listen and thoughtfully take in information; then modify behavior based on what they learn. So, rather than just complain about what folks don’t “get”, let’s try to understand why this is the case, then help them to comprehend. That’s the true win/win.
Do you have any other pet peeves related to what board members don’t ‘get’? How have you helped to enlighten them? Please share.
For more on this topic, check out my free downloadable interview with Natasha Golinsky of Next Level Nonprofits, all about how E.D.s can work with boards to make them passionate, joyful ambassadors, advocates and fundraisers.
Photo: Flickr, minusequalsplus