A committed and inspired board leads to a strong organization. A dysfunctional board or one that’s not inspired makes it almost impossible for the organization to succeed.
Development staff often spot any board problems. To succeed in our work, we have to look at the organization as an organism. And we know the board is a critical part of that whole.
Put a group of us together, though, and you’re likely to hear griping about boards. There’s plenty of truth in our complaints. But we also have a part in fixing the problems.
Here are a few of the things I’ve heard – or said – and some comments and suggestions for you.
My board doesn’t do anything!
Sometimes it feels like you’re pushing string, doesn’t it?
Ask yourself a few questions. Are expectations clear? Is it a case of can’t do or won’t do? If you’re looking for help with fundraising, for instance, you’ll need to be upfront about it. And the board will have to be clear with its members that fundraising is a priority and an expectation.
If you’re having trouble with particular board members – people who take on projects, but never do them, or who refuse to participate in activities that the board has defined as expected, or who are just negative – then make sure your executive director or board president knows. Even one inactive or negative board member can bring down the energy of the whole board.
Finally, inactive boards are likely to be bored boards. Is there anything that would make work more compelling for them?
Reports! And more reports!
I know. You’ve got so much to do. But your board depends on those reports to do their job. They need that information – sometimes in different forms – to know what’s happening with the organization. It’s their job. Imagine how it would feel if your finance officer refused to share budget information with you, because she didn’t have time for reports.
See what I mean?
They don’t seem to understand what it is we do!
Part of our job is to steward our donors. And some of your most important donors are the people who give their time to ensure our organization is well-run. Treat your board members the way you treat your largest donors. Call them to keep them updated. Send them information and thank you notes. Find out what’s happening in their lives and show you care.
Invite them to see your work in action. Hearing about what you do is one thing – experiencing it first-hand is another. Introduce them to the people who have benefited because of the organization’s work. Ask program staff to share “front-line” stories with them often. Make the distance between them and the organization’s work as short as possible.
And the big one – my board won’t fundraise!
I understand that this is very frustrating. I’m right there with you. It feels like board sets fundraising goals, and then turns to you to meet them – alone.
My bet is you’ll find this is driven by discomfort. Many board members are not experienced fundraisers. You’re the expert. So make fundraising less scary by breaking it into tiny bites. And reward every success.
Get emotional. Ask them to think about why they’re on the board. What is it that first moved them to want to give their time and treasure? Try to get really personal responses.
Then ask them to connect with donors – but not to make an ask. Have them send personal thank you letters. Or call to thank donors. (Have you done a Thankathon? If you can get them to come, board members will leave feeling great, guaranteed).
Even if they never go beyond stewarding donors, they’re contributing to fundraising. Those personal touches are so important!
Ask them to sign letters. You write, you print, they sign, you mail. It doesn’t take a great deal of effort on their part, but it does connect them to the ask.
If any of the board are open to it, share good information about fundraising with them. (See some links below to get you started). Encourage them!
Think about what other simple, small things could you ask them to do. And about how you can make sure they feel needed and thanked for their work.
Then take a deep breath and remember we’re all in this together.
For more information
Gail Perry has some great ideas here on no-ask ways to involve your board in fundraising.
And have you watched Susan Howlett’s Movie Monday video? I strongly suggest it.
Simone Joyaux has a wealth of great information on board development on her site.
Gayle Gifford reminds us to look at it from the board’s point of view.