The Wrong Board

A colleague who has spent her career at large, well-resourced nonprofits was complaining about a recent event she attended.  The purpose of the event was to match potential board members with nonprofits needing new board members.  The problem according to my colleague?  The potential board members were all inappropriate—too young, too unconnected, too little financial heft.

But aren’t these often the problem with board members of most of our nonprofits?  Individuals who can afford to serve on the board of a major university, hospital, large national nonprofit are mainly not interested in working with a nonprofit where the operating budget is less than the board gives at those larger organizations.  And so, what you get, are those who care—sometimes passionately—about your work, but may not be sufficiently affluent or influential to move your organization’s needle much.

Does this make them inappropriate?  Not necessarily.  But it may make them very frustrating.

We have all come to believe our board members should be our main fundraisers.  And if your board is not well connected; doesn’t have a lot to give; has no experience in philanthropy nor friends who have such experienced, they will not effective fundraisers.  Unless, of course, you take the time to teach them not just what to do but also how to do it.

That means working with them and getting to first understand that fundraising is as much about building relationships as it is about asking someone (or some organization) for money.  I want my board members to spread their enthusiasm for our organization to others. I want them to help keep donors and prospects interested and involved.Let’s face it, interested and involved prospects will, over time, become invested donors.  Which is the main goal of our jobs.

“How do I get my Board to do these things?” is one question I frequently get asked.

“Small, incremental and frequent steps,” I tell them.  “With lots of celebrating for any success—even (perhaps especially) the small ones.”

Ask your Board member to:

Thank donors.  I find that asking them to write a personal, handwritten note is more effective (in the sense that it will get done—especially if I provide notecard with a preaddressed envelope) than asking them to call. And don’t let them take the notes home to write—with all the best intentions, those notes will not get written.

Invite a friend to take a tour.  Or have breakfast in the CEO’s office with the CEO…and the Board member.

Be a greeter at an event.  Have each Board member spend 10-20 minutes standing at the sign in table, welcoming each and every guest.  A visible badge stating their role (as greeter and/or as Board member) will make it easier for them to shake hands and say, “Thank you for coming to our event.”

Task them—once a month, once a quarter, once a year—with something specific.  Like:

  • Introduce a colleague to the organization (and to the fundraising staff)
  • Host an intimate event where at least 75% of the attendees are their contacts.
  • Join you as you give a tour to someone they don’t know
  • Give a talk about the organization (or arrange for you to give the talk) at their service or professional club.
  • Join you at a solicitation. They don’t have to ask, they just have tell the prospect why they serve on the board.

Whatever it is, keep it simple.  Simple enough that they will feel it is something they can (and therefore, will) do and something that is easily tracked by you.  Yes, they are grownups and yes, they are capable, but also yes, they are busy.  So you must do everything appropriate to ensure that they do what you ask them to do.

And then, thank them—publicly, privately, frequently, and (most of all) sincerely—for all that they do.

Make sure your Board members know how valuable their actions are and how much they contribute to your organization.  And make sure others know how really committed and involved your Board members are.

And now, instead of the wrong board, you have a board with all the right members!





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