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Building Nonprofit Board Development Skill in Stages

I’ve written frequently about the importance of building relationships as fundamental to effective fundraising. This is the development part of the fundraising equation: if our goal is to build a solid, active donor database consisting of lots of folks committed to our mission, the effective part starts with our Board of Directors. The core of our nonprofit organization and its mission.

OK. So groan if you must. I know that many of you have knocked your head on this door a number of times, and come up against resistance. “I didn’t sign up for that.” “I give you my time; it’s your job to raise the money.” I think all of us at one time or another have been there and lived that.

So how do we get to that transformational place that Kay Sprinkel Grace, fundraiser extraordinaire, talks about in her books (e.g., High Impact Philanthropy) and workshops?

It happens step-by-step. In Stages. Ages ago, I cited a Guidestar piece, “Five Fundraising Mistakes We Make with our Boards.” Heck. Only five? here’s a link: http://bit.ly/aWVpLJ.

We start by talking about and acting on building relationships. It takes that interpersonal connectivity around our mission, around the good we are doing for our primary customers, that builds the commitment we need to move the mission and our nonprofit forward. Think about the emotional energy we draw from stories about success around the mission. Take time at board meetings to get the stories on the table, talk about them and share the good feelings that come; the bonding that can happen around these stories. This is the source of energy, and we build it deliberately over time from meeting-to-meeting. When we get this momentum around our mission, the concept of asking our friends who share our commitment to contribute to the cause feels like a natural next step.

In State of the Union messages to Congress and the USA, President Obama frequently closed with stories to illustrate points he wanted to hammer home. Following the mass shooting in Newtown, CT gun violence was the story. I thought his five minutes of story telling was far more effective than the previous hour and ten minutes of listing all the goals he wanted to accomplish.

So don’t forget to tell the stories.

Asking for money to advance a cause we share is a natural progression. Build the Fundraising Board: but do it in stages, over time. So suggesting that a member of the Board ask a friend for a gift doesn’t feel alien, uncomfortable, out of line. Asking becomes a logical next step.

Give it a go.

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Infographics Tell A Story

This Infographic fro World Wildlife Fund is a great example of a nonprofit telling its story in graphic form. Easy to understand. Nicely illustrated. Helps make a connection. https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/infographic-sea-turtles.

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Relationship Check-up: The CEO and the Board Chair

We can have a solid strategic plan, a clear concise mission, an ample donor database. But if the CEO and the Board chair don’t have and seek a strong working relationship, it undermines confidence of staff and rest of the Board and can limit the nonprofit’s capacity to succeed.
So what are some indicators that can help us know we’re good with this relationship?

    Conduct of Board Meetings

: The chair formulates the agenda, in consultation with the CEO. They discuss the agenda about a week prior to each meeting. The Board is the source of nonprofit governance. The CEO and staff execute the program and are accountable for its successful delivery.

    Communicating with Community.

There are roles that should be clarified on when the CEO speaks on behalf of the organization, and when the chair of the board does. This should become a policy, adopted by the Board and reviewed each time a new Chair is elected. So when the nonprofit takes a position on a matter that the community should hear about, we (insiders) know who will speak on a key issue.

    Assessing Performance of the Nonprofit

As a general rule, the CEO oversees performance assessment of staff. And the Board Chair or his/her designee conducts an annual performance review of the CEO. And that review is based on the job description and objectives agreed-to by the Board and CEO at the beginning of each year. This clarity of purpose helps avoid subjective assessments that are not based on pre-determined important factors.

We could discuss more. And I’m happy to have that conversation if you reach out and seek my advice and guidance in making leadership relationships work.

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Orientation of the New Board Members

February is here, Punxutawney Phil saw his shadow, so we have six more weeks of winter (line the calendar tells us). So what will we do on the days we’re snowed in?
I suggest that the well-informed nonprofit executive director will organize an orientation session for new board members. It’s always good when the new kids on the block know what’s up and feel they can participate with some helpful knowledge.
So our new members of the board get the update bylaws, a copy of the most recent audited financial statements, a staff directory, a board directory with contact information for each member and their affiliations, a copy of the nonprofit strategic plan. And maybe a few additional items.
At the orientation session, perhaps over lunch with 2 to 2.5 hours set aside, there can be some free flowing discussion of highlights from the key documents so we all know who’s on first and what’s the score.
Because a knowledgeable board is a more effective board.

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The Networked Nonprofit CEO

I wrote a couple of years back, “It’s lonely at the top.” It’s a familiar quote, and I’m still seeking correct attribution.
I do know this: It’s as true today as it was when observed for the first time. Which in part is why Paul Harris started Rotary International in Chicago 100+ years ago. To develop a place for fellowship and sharing among business leaders in a community. To provide a place to do good work for the community, together. Yes, that certainly was part of it. But on another level, lunch at Rotary is a time and place for leaders of businesses, law firms, accounting firms and nonprofit organizations to gather and do some informal problem solving. Because really: Whom can you comfortably share a problem with? When you have an issue that needs resolution and you’d like to talk it out, it’s helpful to bring it to a group of peers who can serve as a sounding board to hear the issue and give you some feedback.
In a way, Rotary is a network, there for members to use. There are certain rules limiting self-promotion, and the famous 4-way test, including “Is it fair to all concerned?” In a set of parameters, Rotary can be a safe place to talk about anything. For the network to operate properly, it must be founded on trust. And free of cliques. So all feel welcomed.
Each CEO needs a safe place to talk about issues that might be getting in the way of clear thinking.
Board members should encourage nonprofit CEOs to join Rotary. Or, join a network of peers with leadership experience who can be helpful resources when the going gets tough.
Do you have a place to talk about challenging situations in the workplace, outside of your workplace?

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