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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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Now that We’ve Got ’em, What Do We Do with ’em?

So the Governance committee has been out and about seeking volunteers who would like to join our Board. And who bring something we need to the table.
They identified a volunteer on the finance committee, and one from the HR committee who have worked with us for nearly two years and feel like the move up to the Board would be a good experience.
Our Board meets 4 times a year. Twice in fall, once in winter, once in spring. Off for the summer. Our chair runs excellent meetings. Never more than two hours. Always have a client join us to tell us her story at the start of our meetings. To set the right tone.
Beyond members of standing committees, Governance committee members recruited a couple of others from the community. We were fortunate to find an estate planner at a mid-size law firm in town who cares about our mission and would like to help us get our legacy giving program off the ground. And a small business owner whose Mom was helped by one of our program professionals decided this would be her opportunity to “give back.” She has been very generous in many ways. But it was pretty clear to the volunteers on Governance that this young lady is an eager-beaver whose business is soaring and who will bring some adrenaline to our cause.
So. Four new board members joining what will be a group of fourteen. Three members will rotate off. They have hit the ceiling on term limits and, no hard feelings, agreed it was time to move on. Good to know we can call on each of them if we need them.
So. Healthy board. Strong capacity for growth.
Outlook is good.

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Strategic Thinking VI: Recruiting to Build the Nonprofit Board

Is your Nonprofit outgrowing your current Board? Does it seem no matter what you do, there is a lack of zip from most Board members?
It’s a tricky proposition to achieve Board development, even as the Nonprofit is evolving. We want to build capacity for our Nonprofit to better deliver the mission, and generate revenue that makes this possible.
Here are a few suggestions to get things moving in the right direction:
– You need at least two or three members of the current Board who get the need for change and are willing to work to make this happen.
– The chair of the Board needs to be an ally who will work with a core Board group and the Executive Director to get things moving in the right direction.
– At the next Board meeting, be totally transparent with what is happening: A recruitment effort supported by the Chair and led by a committee (Governance? Nominating?) appointed by the Chair to identify candidates, interview them, ask for resumes, work with a job description that accurately lets qualified candidates know where this is going and what is expected.

Some candidates may not agree to join the Board. Perhaps they will serve on a committee. This gives them a chance to get to know you and the organization. If commitment develops with this approach you can build a cadre of Board prospects starting with committee appointments.

This is hard work, and requires more effort than just the Executive Director.

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Nonprofit Board Orientation: Building Shared Vision

Helping the new member of the Board of Directors feel at home is the responsibility of the executive director and the chair of the Board.

The work of putting together a great orientation session and an effective Board manual of course can be delegated, but it’s the job of the nonprofit leadership to make sure that this work is done, and that it’s done well.

Having a two-hour session (including lunch or dinner) featuring the CEO, the Board chair, the treasurer and the chair of the development committee can help give the incoming members a good picture of what’s important and what’s expected of all Board members.

Conducting this session in such a way that engages the new members so they get to ask questions, and offer their viewpoints on key issues facing the organization lets them know that leadership expects even new members of the Board to hit the ground running. And along with this information comes an expectation that the new members will volunteer for at least one committee assignment. And how many events during the year are Board members expected to show up and participate in? All of this should be understood before the commitment is made, and the new members should be ready to sign up at or shortly after orientation for the important work that lies in front of this nonprofit.

A business-like approach that communicates the importance of what the nonprofit does, and the contribution of each and every member of this Board of Directors. Helping the entire Board, including the new folks, get into sync gives the group a chance to articulate and then work toward a shared vision for the future. Delivering the mission with a strong sense of purpose.

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Five Tips for Board Bonding

The Board of Directors is an odd species.
Customarily, there are twelve to fifteen members. They meet regularly: Quarterly. Monthly. Alternate months.
Some Boards grow and develop nicely. What’s the correct potting soil mix? Amount of sunlight? Fertilizer (there’s usually an abundance of that available)…that fosters a thriving healthy Board to keep your Nonprofit mission in proper focus?
From my experience, and training at BoardSource and Leader to Leader and NH Association of Nonprofits, these are five of the keys to Nonprofit/Board success:
Active Governance Committee These are the keepers of the Holy Grail. They are on the lookout for new Board members who can contribute to data-driven decision-making. Who enjoy working with people.
Focused Meeting Agendas Once in a while, the discussion can get off-track. And once in a while this can be beneficial. But generally, Board leaders keep things moving and the give-and-take is targeted to issues that will help this group make intelligent, well-informed decisions.
Strategic Direction The Board knows where the organization is headed and stays focused on helping it accomplish the mission. At each meeting we hear about progress in achieving goals the Board has set.
Time for Play The Board takes time now and then for some social activities. Dinner and conversation. A learning experience that sheds new light on one of the nonprofit’s goals. It’s not all about the formal meetings.
Be Prepared Members come to meetings having read the attachments to the agenda. Leaders know that they can’t overload the work, or members will drift off. Keep agenda do-able in 2 hours.
Following these few steps can put you on the road to higher levels of effectiveness. And along with it, higher levels of Board member satisfaction. And that’s the truth!

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