Are you taking them for granted? Or worse, are you just enduring them?
Wouldn’t you like your organization to have a team of super fans, ready to win people to your cause?
People who would be willing to take your call when you need advice? Or roll up their sleeves when you need hands-on help?
Your board can be your ambassadors, allies, volunteers and brain trust. But developing a board takes time, trust and hard work.
It takes building relationships.
Building the right board
Identifying, recruiting and vetting potential new members is a board function.
But let’s be honest: staff members are usually involved behind the scenes. And while an organization is stronger when a variety of staff can build board relationships, the staff most likely to work on governance are the fundraisers.
We’re aware of who sits on which boards. And because we talk to colleagues at other organizations, we know who is effective.
We know our most passionate donors and can offer ideas about approaching them. And we depend on our board more than anyone else does. (Except for the executive director, managing director or CEO.)
We’re also likely to be the record keeper when it comes to board performance. Who shows up? Who gives? Who makes themselves available to help?
We can tell you.
So consider this step one in staff-board relationship building. Keep accurate records, bring the recruitment committee good information, make suggestions.
Give them the help and tools they need to make good choices.
What should we expect of board members?
It will differ at different organizations, depending on age and size.
Are your board members roll-up-their-sleeves volunteers, supplementing staff?
Or are they ambassadors and advisors?
Here is a good job description for board members from Simone Joyaux.
First, board members should be committed to the mission.
And every board member should make a meaningful financial commitment. It’s hard to encourage support for an organization you don’t support yourself.
Meaningful will vary by person, of course. But when a board member accepts a board position, giving should be a top philanthropic priority.
Should board members fundraise?
Everyone at the organization should be part of the fundraising effort. This doesn’t mean that every board member will be a solicitor.
Some board members are great at it. Some board members are not.
There are so many ways to support fundraising beyond sitting down with donors and asking for a gift! The first is by example – a board member gives.
But even inexperienced or frightened board members can be welcomers, stewards, relationship-builders.
Here are some suggestions:
- Add personal notes to appeals and newsletters
- Make thank you calls to donors.
- Assume responsibility for stewarding a few donors. Communicate with them throughout the year with updates and mission-based stories.
- Bring friends to see the mission at work.
- Talk about the organization with friends and acquaintances. (Arm board members with their own organization business cards!)
- Hold small events at their homes to thank donors or to introduce people to the organization.
What’s your responsibility?
You, as a fundraiser, are in the relationship business. So treat your board members as priorities for relationship development.
There’s no point in complaining about board members if you don’t hold up your end of the relationship.
Call them to stay in touch. Keep them updated with information they might have missed.
Don’t waste their time.
One of my pet peeves is board meetings at which reports take up the entire meeting.
A staff member prepares a report, hands it to a board member, who then reads it to the board.
Could anything be duller?
Reports are critical. But prepare your reports so they’re interesting. Think of how you’d put the information together if you were sending it to a major donor.
Then send those reports – after review by the board member who would have read it – to the board. The board should read the reports before the meeting.
Then your meeting is about discussion, not passive listening.
Play to their strengths
If someone loves giving parties, ask them to work on your next gala. If someone loves connecting people, ask for introductions.
But if a board member hates a party, get creative. Assume they want to help. Then figure out what talents they have and help them help you.
Passive is not what you want in a board!
Remember always that they have taken on hard work – as volunteers. Unlike you, this isn’t their paid job.
They could be home with their family. Or traveling. Or spending more time on a hobby.
But they chose your organization.
What about difficult board members?
Yes, you will encounter people you just don’t click with. Or sometimes, who are antagonistic. I’ve run into board members who hated me on sight – because I was the first development director. They wanted nothing to do with fundraising and resented my presence.
I tried, I did. The rest of the board came to understand how important support for the organization was. And these members came to understand that being on the board was not the right fit for them.
Board members are people – they come in all temperaments. That’s the challenge of it. Some will be people you instantly love. With some, your relationship will grow in time.
Your job is to work toward that growth, for the sake of the organization. Offer help when they need it.
This doesn’t mean you should tolerate abusive treatment.
Keep in mind that you are working toward the same end: a thriving organization.
When the going gets rough…
When an organization is in a moment of crisis, your relationship-building really matters.
People who feel appreciated and informed – who have had their passion for the mission stoked – can become heroes when it counts.
That might be a change in leadership. Or a change in financial circumstances. (Many organizations here in CT are still waiting for a state budget and their allocations. How can you plan with no information?)
I’ve watched more than one board member grow from brand new to a leader. It’s amazing.
I’ve watched board members step forward to take on really hard work. And I’ve seen their joy when it succeeds.
Celebrate with them. Do a little happy dance back at your office. And remember to say thank you – over and over and over.
Board members are people who dedicate serious time and resources to your organization. Don’t ignore your relationships with them.
You are colleagues in philanthropy.
Treat them well, and see what wonders you can do together!
Photo thanks to wilhei