You identify the problem, we solve it!

As a subscriber, the Nonprofiteer received The Nonprofit Quarterly‘s summary of its annual reader survey identifying areas of concern in nonprofit management.  And what did she find at the very top?

the board won’t fundraise (receiving by far the most mentions)

Not too far down the list: "recruitment is a concern" and "the organization needs to involve board members in strategic planning."

The Nonprofiteer would like the suggest that these three are different faces of a single pervasive problem: unarticulated expectations.  Because the rest of the "My Board won’t fundraise" conversation sounds like this:

    "What have you asked them to do?"–"Well, raise money." 

That’s not an answer.  You can ask Board members to look at a list of your current donors and identify the people they know and whom they’d be willing to call on in your company to ask for a bigger gift.  You can ask them to come to the next Board meeting armed with the names of two people to be added to your list of fundraising prospects.  You can invite them to join you in calling on the program officer at your most significant foundation donor, where their very presence will illustrate Board support and involvement.  You can ask them to help plan a benefit event to raise X while spending no more than Y and targeting Z audience. 

What you can’t do is say, "Raise some money!" and walk away, though that’s certainly every staff member’s fantasy.  Lest we forget, Board members are volunteers–and volunteers can move mountains, provided there’s a staff member around with a supply of scaffolding, tools, wheelbarrows, safety glasses and maps to the new location.  There’s a tendency among harried development staff to disdain Board members’ need for support.  But you’re not really authorized to critique the fundraising incompetence of your doctor and lawyer Board members until you can remove an appendix or argue a Supreme Court case without their assistance.  It’s their volunteer gig, but it’s your job, so the responsibility rests with you. 

Many harried nonprofit executives also are so uncomfortable with "the M-word" that they recruit people to their Boards without telling them, in writing, that recruits are expected to write checks (and for how much?) and secure checks (and in what context?).  So of course "recruitment is a concern"–the concern being that people won’t do what you want unless you tell them what you want, but if you tell them what you want they might say "no" right up-front.  This leads many otherwise sane executives to utter recruitment idiocies like "You won’t have to do anything–we just want your name;" or, "You can’t come to meetings?  That’s okay;" or "Money?  Oh, don’t worry about it."

If, by contrast, you go to Board-recruitment sessions with a written unambiguous statement of what you’re seeking, perhaps 50% of your interlocutors will say "No."  But they’ll walk away favorably impressed with your agency and its level of preparation; and the 50% who say "Yes" will join ready to give and get and identify others like themselves.  (The Nonprofiteer has several sample "Statements of Board Member Expectations" which she’ll be glad to share with anyone who’d like to simplify his/her Board recruitment tasks and/or assure him/herself of a fundraising Board.)

Finally: of course you can’t involve the Board in strategic planning if you told prospective Board members they wouldn’t really need to be involved in anything.  But this one’s actually relatively easy to solve, using an efficient, team-based, preferably facilitated planning process (see the Nonprofiteer’s "Three-Meeting Strategic Planning" guide).  Any team-based system can accommodate up to 50 people, and any efficient facilitated process can go from soup to
nuts in 6 months; so there shouldn’t be any problem in
getting Board members involved.  (Board members who can’t manage to come to three meetings in the course of 6 months aren’t really Board members at all–invite them but start planning now for how you’ll replace them.)  And once they’ve written the plan,
you’d better believe they’ll fundraise for it.  Of course, the process isn’t Board-only–staff should be fully integrated as well–so there should be a good balance between what’s dreamed and what can be done. 

More in future postings on other interesting aspects of the Nonprofit Quarterly survey results. 

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2 Responses to “You identify the problem, we solve it!”

  1. russburke Says:

    Thanks, Nonprofiteer, for putting the right spin on this topic. Yep, its up to us a fundraisers to help our board learn and develop if we truly want their help. There are lots of painless ways to get board members introduced and involved in fundraising.

    Nonetheless, I’m going to hit this issue harder in the software training and education pieces I do. Thanks for the reminder about right focus.

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    It’s certainly true that Boards are resistant to their fundraising obligations, so I may have understated their responsibility for the current situation while overstating that of the staff. But as therapists are always telling us, we can change ourselves more readily than we can change others–so a shift of focus to “What can I, fundraising staff member, do about this?” should reduce the level of staff frustration, at least.

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