I meet a lot of fundraisers. It makes sense, after all, I train people to be great fundraisers. Sadly, it’s rare for me to meet nonprofit professionals who are truly happy or satisfied with their boards. They’re usually quite frustrated their board isn’t fundraising. Why? They don’t know how. They’re afraid. A lot of the time this part of the job wasn’t made clear when they were recruited.
So how do we fix it? Heavy lifting, my friend! Here are five tips to help you makeover your board:
#1 Remember that they’re volunteers. You’re paid to do this work. You’re an expert at it. But your board members are busy people with full time jobs and family obligations. This means they’ll never be the expert you are. They’re going to need your help and guidance. Moreover, they need you to keep them motivated. Do you know what motivates them?
#2 Set the right expectations. You wouldn’t hire a new person to work for you without explaining what the job entailed and how their performance would be evaluated. Board members need to know exactly what is expected of them with a clear and robust board contract.
What do you do if your whole board has the wrong expectations? Can they be saved? Yes. You can introduce the proper expectations. It may cause some board members to step down and decide serving is not a good fit for them. It will certainly involve the partnership of your board president and/or board governance chair. It may benefit from outside fundraising counsel to offer board training.
Start with a board self-assessment. At the Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising Conference Aug. 2-4 I will talk with Anna Kennedy, Executive Director of the Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation, about how to use a self-assessment to spark a board makeover. It will require your board chair is on board.
#3 Frame fundraising correctly. Too often I see resentment between staff and boards around the board’s lack of participation in fundraising. Instead of starting with the need and case for support we lead with the activity we want them to do, i.e. sell tables, or name the prospects they know on our list. Consider your invitation to fundraising.
#4 Offer a multitude of different ways to support fundraising. You likely have some board members who are introverts and others who are extroverts. Different activities will appeal to each of them. Approaching everyone with the same “one size fits all” expectation will frustrate board members and staff. I’ve outlined 10 ways board members can support fundraising without making an ask in this guide, The Board Member’s Guide to Fundraising.
#5 Remember that fundraising is staff led. Your board members are not going to wake up tomorrow and start soliciting donors. You must mobilize them, coach them and provide support. I know several organizations with boards excelling at fundraising but they aren’t doing it in a vacuum. Staff is taking on a lot heavy lifting to support the board members in their fundraising success.
Managing a board is not a small task. Building an A-team is hard work. Much is expected of board members. Much is demanded of you as their CEO to support them. Consider how you are supporting them. How well are you:
- Tapping into their motivational drives
- Giving them regular feedback
- Giving rewards and recognition
- Offering special privileges or incentives
- Providing training
- Giving public affirmations
- Having fun with them
- Thanking their families
- Positive gossip (bragging to peers)
- Being available to them
Rachel’s talk, Extreme Board Makeover: Turn Your Board Into Your Dream Team, can be heard at the 12th Annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising, August 2-4 at the Gaylord National Hotel, National Harbor, MD.
About the author
Rachel Muir (@rachelmuir) is a speaker, trainer and nationally recognized nonprofit founder and thought leader. When she was 26 years old, Rachel founded Girlstart, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering girls in math, science, engineering and technology in the living room of her apartment with $500 and a credit card. Learn more about Rachel at www.rachelmuir.com.