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How to Change the Nonprofit Board You Have

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change the nonprofit board

Managing a board of directors can be hard. I know, I’ve been in your shoes as both an Executive Director and as a volunteer board member.    

Trying to change your board can feel hopeless. Like pushing a huge boulder up a hill. I meet burned out Executive Directors all the time. They feel alone and unsupported. They’re carrying the weight of their entire organization on their shoulders.  

Can you change the nonprofit board you have?

Yes, you can. I’m here to show you how.  

Step 1: Take care of number one – you!  

I travel all over the country helping fundraisers and their boards raise more money. Every flight I take starts the same way. The stewardess introduces the safety procedures and says, “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”

If you are not taking care of yourself you cannot feel anything BUT overwhelmed by a demanding, unproductive or dysfunctional board. Your own self-care must be your top priority.If you don’t take care of yourself, who will? Working for a nonprofit can be rewarding, meaningful, lonely and terrifying. Are you showing signs of oxygen deprivation? Ask yourself, what do you need to maintain your physical and mental health? Check out my friend Beth Kanter’s new book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit and use her self-care plan start implementing self-care behaviors to reduce your overwhelm.

Step 2: Craft a board survey, aka board assessment.

This is my number one favorite way to start changing the board you have. Sounds simple right? That’s why it’s so genius! You know all those things that are frustrating you, like board members not coming to meetings, or having fundraising knowledge? This is where you can get all that out in the open so you have a runway to start changing it. It’s board led which means you get to say, “We heard you loud and clear that we’re lacking in __________ (board diversity, fundraising fluency, etc.) and to support that we’re going to _______ (prioritize recruitment, offer training, etc.).” It shows your gaps, charts a course and hold board members accountable. They can rate themselves individually and/or rate the board overall. Survey areas can span participation, engagement, fundraising knowledge, strategic direction – you name it. Board assessments are literally everywhere and you can grab a sample board assessment here

Step 3: Get help from the outside.  

Why is it hard for staff to train board members to fundraise? Staff can be perceived as having a vested interest in the outcome. One of the greatest benefits of working with outside expertise is tapping into their knowledge and experience working with hundreds of organizations. When I come in to do a board training or retreat I’m representing what is proven to work in fundraising, not what your board members think might work. An outside expert can be the final push to finally convince your board what you’ve been saying all along (I know it’s frustrating that they didn’t hear you the first, time, believe me I’ve been there). People like me who train organizations and their boards for a living are objective. We can give you emotional support and take a tough stand with your board, whether its addressing board giving, term limits or something else.  

If you’re struggling with how to pay to get the help you need consider partnering with other organizations to hire a trainer. You can also look to your local community foundation or association of fundraising professionals to sponsor bringing someone in for a board development workshop for the nonprofits in your community.  

Even if you have no budget you can still solve for this. How? Recruit a top-notch board member from another organization to come talk to your board about how fundraising (or board governance or whatever area you want to improve) gets done by their board.

What’s the biggest source of friction between boards and staff? Fundraising! When it comes to getting board members engaged in fundraising there are some very clear Do’s and equally important – the Don’ts! To help you navigate this oh, so important arena and set yourself up for success we made you a cheat sheet and sample board member engagement form.

Grab the Do’s and Don’ts of Getting Boards to Fundraise to set your board up for fundraising success!  

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