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Lori Jacobwith recently joined us to discuss her recent blog post “An Open Letter to Nonprofit Boards from Your Staff Leadership” with some tips on board development. You can watch the full episode here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right. We’re live. Welcome this week’s episode of
Bloomerang TV. Thanks for watching. Thanks for listening in for a few
minutes. I’m Steven, I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang and I am
joined today by Lori Jacobwith. She is Chief Fundraising Culture-changer
and a master storyteller. She’s a fundraising expert, she’s a coach, she’s
a speaker, she’s a blogger; really awesome to have you here, Lori. Thanks
for taking the time.

Lori: Thank you. Thanks for allowing me to be on Bloomerang TV. I’m
very excited for my debut.

Steven: Oh, absolutely. You look great, you sound great. I’m excited
for you to be here. So, can you tell folks a little bit more
about yourself? I doubt anyone watching doesn’t know you but
just in case, what are you up to these days?

Lori: Oh, there are a lot of people out there that probably don’t
know. Besides meeting myself coming and going, because there’s
so much going on, I help organizations tell their stories
powerfully, their money story and their people story, so that
people want to give them more of whatever it is they need. I do
that through trainings, webinars, live sessions, on-site
coaching, my blog, my Facebook page.

The thing I’m most passionate about is working with boards and staffs
so literally the culture changes inside an organization so
language shifts, action shifts, accountability shifts and money

Steven: So culture changing, that’s a really unique title you have,
Chief Fundraising and Culture-changer, because the fundraising
culture does need to change. I mean it seems like everything you
write about, all your excellent webinars, that’s what you really
want people to do is change their entire culture.

Lori: I want them to look at their selves and look at their
organization through a different lens. The lens would be we’ve
got what we need to do the work; we just have some gaps in
resources or people or donor retention. And the more people we
talk to about those gaps, the more we allow that to show up.
When you show people a space, a lot of times they’ll fit that
space for you but you have to talk about it in a way that gets
people excited.

Steven: Yeah. Now there’s one aspect of culture that you write about a
lot and that a lot of people talk about in general and that is
boards and leadership and staff members. You wrote a really,
kind of sublimely excellent blog post that caught our eye over
here; an open letter to nonprofit boards from your staff
leaderships. So you kind of wrote a pep talk and a little bit of
an instruction manual to board members, effective board members
and current board members. What are some things that the staff
of a nonprofit should expect from their board? What does that
list of things look like from your letter?

Lori: Well, there are a few things. One is to talk about the
organization all the time, to be wearing your “boardness,” I
say, on your sleeve, to be an active ambassador. So one of the
things I recommend is to create a scavenger hunt-like setting at
an event where board members are assigned two donors. They go
find those volunteers or donors and they thank them. That’s all.

I also recommend board members know what your money story is: how
much do you have to raise, by when. So I can talk about that,
share your people story so that I as a board member can
articulate with a picture, with a description of a real person
who is being helped, who is being served by our work.

Here’s the thing though, Steven that sometimes is a little
controversial. I say this pretty regularly and people’s sort of
eyeballs pop out of their head. I believe its 100% staff
responsibility for board members to be great.

Steven: Yeah.

Lori: And, it’s 100% board member’s responsibility to do what we said
we would do.

Steven: So why doesn’t that all happen? I mean you work with a lot of
organizations. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of boards that are
maybe ineffective and staffs that are ineffective but why don’t
all those suggestions that you just made happen? Is it because
the staff doesn’t set expectations or the board doesn’t follow
through? What’s the actual problem?

Lori: Well, I think we’re being really nice. You know, one of the
things I say in my letter was we know you want to make a
difference, board member, but we don’t want to hurt your
feelings. We don’t want to ask too much of you. We don’t want to
assume you know anything about being a board member or assume
you don’t know anything about not being a board member. So we’re
just going to continue on the way it was.

It’s about communication. We are really looking at these board
members as special and we don’t want to hurt their feelings. We
put them up on this pedestal. They’re wonderful people; don’t
get me wrong, they’re giving their most important commodity,
their time. And they’re human beings. They have full lives.
They’re busy.

So we as responsible staff, our job is to say “We’re going to take
great notes. We’re going to put them into an action format;
name, who said what and by when.” We’re going to make it easy as
possible for you to not not do what you said you’d do, because
there’s the deadline, there’s what you said. It’s in the email,
it’s in the follow-up notes and we’re going to show you some
charts and graphs. And then board members often don’t want to
say I’m not really sure what risk management is. Well wait a
minute. How do I know what a good cash flow amount is?

So there’s this lack of communication that’s happening and we just
keep doing–you know the definition of insanity–the same thing
over and over again and expecting different results.

Steven: Yeah.

Lori: So I come into an organization and they finger point. They’re
not telling us enough. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be
doing. There’s just this disconnect.

Steven: So how do you fix that? What are some action steps that a staff
can take right now to do all of those things that you lay out in
your letter?

Lori: Well, one easy thing to do, a simple thing to do is to have the
executive director and the board chair have a conversation and
then unfold the rest of this to the board. And the conversation
looks like this, what are the top three things this board should
be working on, should focus on this year? The second part of
that action step is do we have the right people on this board to
make those three things happen?

As the CEO and the board chair, board president, make sure they’re
in, you know mom and dad are in agreement on that. Then that
unfolds into the rest of the organization and everything that is
done is measured or is talked about with those three things in
mind. And those three things should focus on, if you’ve got one,
your strategic plan.

Pretty basic, you know, make a plan, follow the plan. Make a plan to
follow the plan, report out on how you’re following the plan:
dashboards, visual displays, those are staff responsibility to
give to the board so there’s peer-to-peer conversation. But if
the development directors say notice this, not getting any
“yeses” for people to sell tickets or come to an event, have the
chair of the board, the CEO and maybe the fund development
chair, now you maybe have a mini-meeting to talk about peer-to-
peer how can we have a conversation that holds the board
accountable for what they said they’d do?

The last thing that I recommend always is to have some sort of a
board agreement that we sign every year. It could be very
simple. There’s a couple of free downloads on my website that
are samples of them. One is a menu. You get to pick appetizers,
a dinner and dessert and you choose what actions you’re going to
take as a board member.

But now, staff would take that menu and put it into the grid, put it
into the Excel spreadsheet so we’re actually tracking. Staff,
you track your activity. You track your number of asks. You
track what you’re doing. We want to do the same thing in
supporting the board to take action.

Steven: Now, I know we’ve been a little hard on board members and
that’s okay. Sometimes they need a swift kick in the rear end,
right? Is it possible to have a really great board assembled but
they’re not getting what they need from the staff rather than
the other way around? What kind of things do you see typically
that maybe the board isn’t getting that they need to be getting?

Lori: Well, I believe that on the first day a board member shows up
they want to, they expect to do well. They’re here to make a
difference. And then they come to that first meeting and
something happens. There weren’t any minutes or the minutes were
so long I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to be doing

Or the orientation process was tedious and arduous. It wasn’t broken
up into bite-sized pieces to keep me excited. Or we have removed
ourselves from the mission of the organization and the staff
leadership hasn’t remembered hold your board meetings at
different locations so the board members remember who you’re
serving and why.

I call board meetings a performance. They’re a well-orchestrated,
well-planned, pre-rehearsed performance so if we as staff
haven’t done a great job in getting the agenda set and the
speakers on our different, you know, the roles filled in and
who’s going to say what and it’s not all staff, don’t expect a
board member then to show up and know what they’re supposed to
say if you didn’t call them ahead of time and say “Hey, here’s
your report. Do you have any questions?”

So it’s about communication, pre-planning and it’s knowing what the
skills are of the people who are coming to the table.
Conversations regularly about that; I like to throw into a board
meeting every once a while what’s your talent, or your gift that
you bring to us, that you’re most proud of? Because we want to
know what that is so we can be utilizing that and enhancing and
growing our mission.

Steven: I love that. I love the description as a performance. I’ve
never heard it described that way but it makes a lot of sense
now hearing it. And I’ve been on some boards where, yeah, we
weren’t getting that stuff. It’s hard for board members for

Lori: When you have to like, weed through the clutter to figure out,
okay where am I supposed to take action here?

Steven: Yeah, it’s hard. All right, so everyone follows your advice.
They do all these things but it still doesn’t improve. Is it
time to look at new board members? What should you do if you
absolutely can’t get over this hump and things aren’t getting

Lori: Everybody shouldn’t be on the board. All the movers and shakers
in town, if you have the best board because they are the CEOs or
the money people or the longest supporting, whatever it is, all
those people might not be the best people to be on your board.
The common denominator is passion and willingness to take
action, those two things.

You could have a really new board who’s really passionate, but
they’ve never been on a board before so they don’t know what to
do. Well, we can work with that. You want to teach me how to do
that. It’s a peer-to-peer conversation though, to bless and

But it means the CEO and the board chair have this partnership. They
genuinely look at, or regularly look at, the attendance list,
the contributions of board members, the committee structure. Who
signed up to be on what?

And there’s a conversation that’s assigned to the board chair or the
governance chair that says “You know, Steven. You’ve been a part
of our organization for a long time. I get that you love this
organization but you travel all the time. We’d like to release
you from that duty and obligation of coming to board meetings
and welcome your attendance at, there’s two events we’d
especially like to have you attend, we want you to always know
your financial support is welcome but we want to make sure that
board seat is there for people who can actually participate on a
regular basis.”

Steven: Right. What about term limits? Set term limits?

Lori: Absolutely. Term limits, if we don’t have them, we have to have
that conversation and start to have them. Annual elections, all
of that, those are your friends, those are your tools. But then,
measuring the effectiveness of our board, so having a self
assessment that the board does every year and then again staffs
helping to read that data, understand that data.

The other thing I hear regularly, you probably have too, is well the
board doesn’t help with fundraising. You know what? All board
members shouldn’t. They’re not good askers. But if they knew
thanking donors increases donor retention, giving people a shout
out, forwarding your email, all of those things can actually
increase donor retention and the size of gifts. I know and you
know I’d sure be willing to do that but we as staff have to give
the road map on how to get it done.

Steven: I love it. So it’s easy, right? No problem.

Lori: Well, the good news is its simple.

Steven: Yes.

Lori: But the truth is it takes a pause of time to actually focus on
how are we making this board meeting really effective? How are
we making it fun? How are we, I usually say start a board
meeting with a client story. Have me remember why we’re doing
this work in the first place. So it takes a little bit of focus
and some time but its not hard work.

It’s just that we have to choose to put the effort in, both on the
board side and on the staff side. I’ve watched organizations go
from really unengaged to totally engaged but it was a
partnership that caused that to happen. We’ve had some board
members leave along the way who aren’t; they’re not of the
mindset that we have to do some of the doing. And that’s okay.
You would want them to move on to the other place in the
organization where they can feel useful.

Steven: Yep, it makes sense. Well Lori, this was awesome advice and
read Lori’s blog. Sign up for a webinar. You’re going to get
more advice on how to do this stuff, right? Lori, where can
folks find out more about you online, follow you on Twitter, and
I think you have a newsletter, too?

Lori: I do. Well, my website today is It will soon
be We’re changing our name over the next
couple of weeks here. The Twitter is easy, LLJacobwith. I love
Twitter friends. I’ve got a Facebook page as well and that’s
LJacobwith. Find me. I’m on social media.

If you visit my blog and you like it, you can check the RSS box and
put your email in there. I will say, right on back to you
though, the folks at Bloomerang are of the wisest that I meet in
the community and focusing on the very thing that will make the
most difference, which is keeping your donors happy. So thank

Steven: Well, thank you. I appreciate that and we’ll link to all of
your stuff. Yeah, you’ve definitely got to follow Lori because
there’s some really awesome content, really helpful for sure. So
Lori, thanks for joining us. This was a lot of fun.

Lori: Thank you so much and I love being on the TV.

Steven: Yeah, this was fun. All right. We will catch everyone next
week. Thanks for watching and we will see you next time.

Lori: Have a great day.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.