One of the most amazing things I’ve noticed while serving on multiple charitable boards is that many boards are desperate for warm bodies. Organizations try to get people involved who have “brand names” or are known in the community with the intent that they’ll reach out to their friends for donations, but those same people might not be comfortable or so-inclined to actually fundraise. Typically on a board of 12 people, there are only about two TRUE fundraisers. This means they are comfortable and active in the fundraising process.
I once served on a board with several wonderful people – hardly any of which had fundraising capacity. This was exhausting for the whole board.[pullquote position=”right”]To combat having a board that isn’t inclined to fundraise, you must make sure people’s roles are aligned with their personalities.[/pullquote]The Executive Director was exhausted from constantly scrambling to reach her yearly fundraising numbers, the two fundraisers on the board were exhausted from paddling the boat by themselves, and the rest of the board was exhausted from the stress of being asked to do something with which they weren’t comfortable.
Inevitably, after serving their three-year terms, the fundraisers would drop off the board because that kind of effort cannot be sustained by only a few people. To combat having a board that isn’t inclined to fundraise, you must make sure people’s roles are aligned with their personalities.
If you have a board that is supposed to be a fundraising board, make that clear to them
When you don’t properly set expectations with your board members about their role, you might find you lack enough people with the personalities or resources to accomplish your goals. If you have a board that is supposed to be a fundraising board, you must make that clear from the beginning, and have the same discussion with each new board member added to the mix. If there are other positions on your board besides fundraising, the members who fill those roles should also be using their inherent skills to their fullest potential.
Across the five non-profit boards I have served on, I have yet to experience a board that isn’t fundraising. What I’ve witnessed is the mentality that “the more board members we have serving, the more money we can expect to bring in.” This is what causes organizations to have a “take who we can get” mentality.
One of the biggest board management lessons I have learned is that it’s not who or how many board members you have, but putting the right people in the right seats that will grow results.
1. Place the Right People
One way to get board members in the best seat for their skills is through personality testing. Anyone serving on a board would probably be willing to go through testing, not only to make sure the board has the skills necessary to grow, but also to learn where they can bring the most value to the table.
Often, charitable organizations don’t run themselves like a business, but as you’ll find in “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, major corporations succeed by placing the best people in the most appropriate roles for their skills and personality – non-profit boards should do the same. Boards can consider consultants who can help administer these tests and align board members with roles.
2. Utilize the Skills You Have
Passion for an organization only can take someone so far in accomplishing a task, but innate skills can move them beyond a normal ability to excel in a given role. If you have someone who hates selling or asking for donations, don’t put them in a donor communication or solicitation role. If your organization reaches out to the political community but you have board members who aren’t comfortable talking with officials, give that role to a social networker who wants the opportunity.
You may not believe this, but there are times where you’ll ask a board member to accomplish a task that terrifies them! It probably won’t be in their nature to speak up and admit they aren’t comfortable, so the result is often a poorly executed task. The reality is, certain people are comfortable doing certain things. Does your board have your networkers crunching numbers for a certification you’re seeking? Do you have your number-crunchers out at social events trying to communicate your message?
Regroup and make sure you’re maximizing the potential of the skills of your board. Otherwise, you might lose their enthusiasm by draining their potential.
If your board does recruit a member with big community presence, chances are they’re constantly being asked to bring in money. A different way to utilize their network while lessening their workload would be asking them to open doors for your board to have the opportunity to make an ask – all they have to do is make a phone call to get you in and never directly have to ask their network for money.
If they understand from the beginning that they won’t be soliciting money, but can instead help you by opening doors, they might be more inclined to join your board.
4. Streamline Your Efforts
Sometimes boards are so desperate for funds, they start trying fundraising activities they have seen work well for other organizations. A few years ago, the trend became hosting golf tournaments. These tournaments take a lot of work and don’t always yield as much because they cost a lot to produce.
So, then a board might switch to a silent auction.
Then they try and combine a silent auction and dinner following the golf tournament.
Eventually, you have so many activities going on that they become unmanageable and really dilute the impact of your fundraising efforts.
I once served on a board that did multiple activities for fundraising, but it ultimately got to the point where our board was exhausted. We had the formal dinner, the auction, the golf tournament, several trivia nights AND a bowl-a-thon – all in the SAME year!
The most successful board I have served on decided to streamline their efforts and settled on one event, once a year – the BIG event. We now have a great celebration that community members look forward to, offer raffle tickets in conjunction with the event (for prizes and deals), and can concentrate our efforts to raise necessary funds into a single event.
Too often boards get weighed down by the pressures and expectations from the organization they serve. Remember the organization I served where the board was full of individuals not inclined to fundraise? This organization was never was able to get a process down which allowed them to find fundraisers, and their satellite branch was shut down by the parent organization. You really have to make sure the type of board members you have are those that can complete the necessary requirements for your organization.
For fundraising, it really comes down to setting expectations, aligning roles to personalities, maximizing the potential of your board and streamlining your efforts. By stepping back and making these fundamental changes, your fundraising efforts will be met with success!
Thank you for your comments. Getting our board members and their skills in the best positions can create such a powerful force. Sometimes we get in our own way as a board just by overlooking this step. Aaron, best of luck to you as you continue working toward your goals, and I hope you find some great people to work with!
Your articles are very insightful. I have for long time been thinking about starting a nonprofit (not for profit) organisation. Now armed with your ideas I am convinced nothing can stop me. I understand what it means to be a board member and how to 'fish' suitable and like minded board members. Thank. My thanks also go to Heidi, you two constitute a bank of good ideas!
Thanks Aaron! Sounds like you are getting started on a big adventure! We're looking forward to hearing about your experiences. :)
VERY useful! I'm sending this to every board of which I have ever been a member! Thank you for this article!