Good governance is the key to getting the board to step up to the plate on fundraising.

In this webinar, Brian Saber will show you what’s keeping you back, and five key steps you can take that will lead to building a stronger fundraising team.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Brian, is it okay if I go ahead and get started here?
Brian: Absolutely.
Steven: All right, great. Well, good afternoon, everyone if you are on the East Coast and good morning, I should say if you were on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Board Governance and Fundraising: Two Peas in a Pod.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.
And before we begin, just a couple of housekeeping items, just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation and we’ll be sending out the recording and the slides later on this afternoon. So if you want to review the content or maybe you have to leave early for a meeting or something like that, don’t worry, we’ll get all that good stuff in your hand. You’ll be able to review all the great advice that you’re going to get over the next hour, so have no fear.
Most importantly, please make use of that chatbox right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A so don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. We’d love to answer your questions and comments at the end of the presentation. So please type them in as we go along here. You can also do that on Twitter. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Twitter feed for questions and comments as well.
And then one last bit of technical note, if you have any trouble with the audio through your computer speakers, we find that the audio is usually a lot better by phone. So if it’s not working for you, try dialing in by phone before you totally give up on us. There is a phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour ago that you can dial into, so give that a try if that will be comfortable for you if you don’t mind doing that.
If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to you folks. We do these webinars just about every Thursday throughout out the year. We only miss a couple of Thursdays for holidays or whenever I need a break. It’s one of my favorite things we do here. We got great a guest every single week, totally educational presentation, so you’ll want to keep registering for these webinars if this is your first one.
But if you’re also not familiar with Bloomerang, we are a provider of donor management software and I’m partial to it obviously since I work here. We think it’s really good and our customers do too in general. So check that out if you want to learn more about what we have to offer. You can go to our website. You can watch a video demo. You can request a live demo and we’d love to show you around later on.
Don’t do that right now because we’re going to have some fun over the next hour. We’ve got one of my favorites here joining us. Brian Saber is joining us from beautiful New Jersey by way of lots of places. He travels quite a lot but he carved out of his time, some time out of his schedule to be here with us. How is it going, Brian? You’re doing okay? You staying warm?
Brian: I am. I am staying warm in our 4-degree weather this morning, and I hope everyone else is.
Steven: Well, you’re doing better than me. Yeah. Well, you’re going to bring some warmth for us as I said before. And I just want to, I want to brag on you real quick because you’re really are one of my favorites. I like to run into Brian. I ran into him in November, we were both presenting in a conference and I knew I wanted him back on the webinar series. He’s done a couple of sessions for us before. Always really well-received.
If you don’t know Brian, you got to checkout Asking Matters, really, really good resource online. Go to his website later on. He’s the president over there, and he’d been doing this a long time. He has a lot of years’ experience in fundraising pretty much his whole career. Actually, cuts his teeth in fundraising as a telethon caller, so he knows a lot about asking starting off there.
Later on, he went on to manage a major gift program over at Brandeis University, did that for about six years. He’s been an executive director twice. So he’s really been in your shoes, which is something I always look for in our webinar presenters. He talks the talk but he also walks that walk that all of you are dealing with on a daily basis.
And like I said, speaks a lot, does a lot of training, has done trainings for Prevent Child Abuse America, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Social Venture Partners International, NPR, Volunteers of America, U.S. Olympics Committee. Lots of people are inviting Brian in for his trainings, so this is really a treat to get him on our webinar series. And I don’t want to take any more time away, Brian, from you. So I think you’re going to share your screen and tell us all about governance and fundraising.
Brian: I am.
Steven: So take it away, my friend.
Brian: Absolutely. Well, thank you, Steve. Thanks for having me back here. I’m delighted to be again with Bloomerang and this time to talk about board governance and fundraising, what we say is two peas in a pod. I have been in the nonprofit world my entire career. Steve mentioned the phone-a-thoning. I phone-a-thon in college and boy, did I hate that. But I did enjoy all the other stuff I did at my college. I had a work study job and I was involved in a lot of activities and decided I wanted to go into the nonprofit world when I got out of college.
And like most of us whether we’re professionals or volunteers we’re involved because we care. Very few of us grew up saying I want to be a fundraiser when I grow up. I don’t know how many of you on today are wearing a professional hat, and how many of you wearing a board member hat. If you want, you can type that in and maybe Steve will share that with me.
But even for most of us professionals, we’re not fundraising because we had to fundraise. There was nothing else we could think of to do. We’re fundraising because we care and we’re getting some skills along the way, maybe we’re getting training. Our board members are doing that as well, right? They’re here because they care, 100%, because they care. And without the training and without the framework and it’s a challenge.
I’ve worked with boards forever. I trained a lot of boards today and I guess the good news and bad news is that the challenges are similar across the industry. It’s easy to look at the big guys and think, “Oh, they don’t have any problems,” but, you know, the nonprofit world is an incredible place. I love it. The good we do is exponential. But we’re also a quirky place. And were going to talk a little bit about in particular in terms of board service and what it’s all about and how that ties in.
I know many of you have been on other webinars and you know that at Asking Matters we are the home of the asking styles that we develop. I have a book on that. At the end I’m going to talk about a really important product. I am going to be a little salesy, Steve told me I could be, that deals with this whole idea of integrating board governance and fundraising. It’s something I’m spending a lot of time on because it’s so important if we’re not going to spin our wheels and if we’re going to have the funds we need to operate our organization.
Because as you know, and I say you, staffer, more than board mummers, you know that most of the money comes from individuals. That for corporate work, foundations, government support, a lot of that can be done by the staff. But when it comes to individuals, which is actually where 87% of all the charitable gifts are, it takes all hands on deck. And it means everyone’s got to be involved in that and people have to believe enough to want to do it because staff cannot do it alone.
If you’re at a major university where there are hundreds and hundreds of gift officers, you can cover a lot of ground and stuff. But most nonprofits are small. Most of the nonprofits I’ve worked for had budgets under $2 million. And maybe I was the only development staff member. One says, ED, I was the fundraiser as well and we can only cover so much ground without the board which is why it’s so important.
So let’s look at board service and what it’s really about. So think for a minute of what we ask of our board members, because it’s quite counterintuitive. We say, “Ah, we needed to attend four or more board meetings, maybe there are six.” Some organizations have one every month, maybe they take the summer off. And it’ll probably be in the evening when you’d rather be relaxing or with your children and truthfully the meetings may or may not be interesting to you.
Then on top of that we’re going to ask you to work on the committee that might also be meeting in the evening or by conference call when you’re working, and oh, we’re going to ask you to pay for the privilege. We’re going to ask you to make a personally significant gift to us for the honor of sitting on the board and attending all of these meetings and having all this fiduciary responsibility because if we mess this up, it’s going to be on you. And as a bonus, if that’s not enough, you get to fundraise which we know is the number one thing you’re hoping to do and sign me up now.
And you and I know that so often this is having so often in my life as I’ve tried to recruit board members, they say, “I’ll do anything but fundraise.” Right? It already comes with this black mark hiss, “I’ll do anything but fundraise. I’m not a fundraiser. Don’t ask me to do that.” So we’re asking board members to do a tremendous amount out of what? Right. Why are they doing so much and how do we make that a really good value proposition, since we’re starting from that point of view.
How are we going to motivate their board service? We have to make sure they have a deep personal concern to the achievement of the mission and for the change of the organization can make. It means we can’t put people on the board just because they have money or connections if they really don’t care. Because they’re going to get on the board and then they’re not going to want to do the difficult work.
And so many times I hear, “He’s on the board because he gives a lot of money but he doesn’t come to meetings.” Ouch. Or, you know, “This one’s on the board but we don’t ask her to do anything else because of this.” Well, I say there’s a different role for those board members and that what we need is for everyone on the board to have this deep personal concern because that the second piece here is that they need to feel they’re part of an effective and supportive group which is why we can’t have boring board meetings and we can’t have absentee board members because you need to feel you’re part of a group that is working together where everyone is doing the best he or she can.
That is motivating to board members. It’s certainly not motivating to know that you’re the only one doing the work. So unless everyone is going to be asked to do this difficult fundraising work and this could be structured the right way which we’re going to talk about, they’re not going to do it. And they to feel they’re having an impact on the organization.
So think to yourself to what extent do you think your board members feel they’re making an impact. Do they feel they’re making an impact? If you ask them, would they say that? If they don’t think so, it’s going to be really hard to get them to fundraise. Right? We need to create an environment where board members are connected with the mission, engaged in addressing the strategic issues of the organization and feel responsible to each other as much as to the organization, so this is key. Thinking about motivation not an obligation. We don’t want board members sitting on the board out of obligation or doing the work out of obligation. We need them to do it because they’re inspired and they see they’re making an impact. And you should think about your board in that framework.
So boards evolve. I find this really fascinating because while we need our board members to be actively engaged at all times, the nature of that engagement changes as their organization evolves and everyone is somewhere along the spectrum and it’s important that your board’s engaged in the ways you need for the current stage of the organization and not continuing what was appropriate earlier.
We’re going to talk about that in a second – hands-on versus governing. The truth of the matter is, and one of the challenges we have in getting our boards to fundraise is that boards rarely evolve as quickly as the organization. Usually the organization moves ahead, it grows. And then you try and get the board you need for that organization.
So in the broadest terms, most organizations start with the visionary who has an idea and gathers his or her friends, relatives, and peers to form a board. Everyone does whatever needs to be done. And a lot of that is hands-on work as new organizations rarely have paid staff. Right? So we started hands-on. And we need to have an understanding of how we’re moving from hands-on to governing where we’re not dealing with the day to day . . . As a matter of fact, I have an organization now where I’m consulting, then there’s plenty of professional staff and I see the chair dealing with what I would call the staff’s job in terms of wordsmithing proposals and things like that. So we need to have an appropriate balance at any one time and that does evolve.
So early on board members are working a lot, they’re providing some wisdom and very little wealth. As they evolve to governing lots of wealth, the same amount of wisdom but less work. Right? All three are present at all stages but in different balances. And the balance changes very much in respect to the amount of time and energy devoted to fundraising rather than hands-on.
So I want Steve to launch a poll because I’d like to know where you think you are in this spectrum, from hands-on to governing. And then we’ll talk about specifically the board’s role in it. Is your board totally hands-on, mostly hands-on, in the middle, mostly governing, or totally governing?
As I said, often, the organization has evolved beyond the board and it’s a question of then looking back at the board and we’re going to talk about ways to do that today, to get the board to where the organization is so that the board can actually do the fundraising the organization needs. And you might share these particular slides with your board as you’re trying to help everyone understand what’s the reality today. So we have hundreds and hundreds of you on today. Steve, can people see the results as they’re coming in or only when we’re finished?
Steven: Hopefully, everyone can see them. What I’m seeing is about 47% are saying mostly hands-on. Very few people saying totally hands-on, mostly governing, or totally governing. And then the other half is sort of split between in the middle and mostly hands-on, kind of interesting. But most people are mostly hands-on.
Brian: They’re mostly hands-on.
Steven: Yeah.
Brian: Yeah. I’m seeing a lot of in the middle and mostly governing actually. It’s a little different on my screen. But very few totally hands-on, very few totally governing, which makes sense because most organizations are somewhere along the spectrum and the fundraising needs to keep up with it. So actually, let’s see, I think I can click. Can I click skip to results to make sure that it’s showing.
Steven: Yeah, go for it.
Brian: Let’s see. Okay, so now everyone can see. So actually we’re seeing a lot of mostly hands-on, right? That’s the big one. You’re right. And then in the middle . . . oh no. You know what, Steve, it shifts. Most people are saying they’re in the middle. The bars are actually not lining up with the five . . .
Steven: Oh, you’re right. Yeah, you’re right, that’s weird. Sorry.
Brian:I have no idea why. That is odd. That’s a ReadyTalk quirk.
Steven:It [erased 00:17:20] something
Brian: Yes. And Ginny is saying is can she see the slide again. And as soon as we close the poll, I’ll do that. I will share my slides again and you’ll be able to see that. So as you can see this is a really important point. And around this you can accomplish a lot and on having a shared understanding of where you’re at and where you have to get to. And there are bumps along the road in this. We all know that we have founder boards and people are very dedicated but they’re not there to give originally. They’re not there to give big gifts and help with big fundraising, right?
I’m going to share this next slide to show the difference. So on the fundraising side when you’ve got a hands-on board everyone helps, right? You ask everyone you know, you run a lot of small fundraising events, tons of people give, and the board members themselves may or may not give personal gifts, because that’s not necessarily an expectation. You’re doing all these hands-on work instead. When you’re a complete governing board, you’re providing fundraising oversight, you’re making more significant gifts and hopefully working on major gifts, cultivating and soliciting major gift donors.
As you become a governing organization, this fundraising lags behind because you have board members who are brought on with the purpose of the hands-on and now have to be retrained. They need their perspective to change, and that takes a lot of work, retreats, discussions, as you have these and you change your job descriptions, we’re going to talk about all that. Some people come along . . . I always say it takes . . . we have evolution and revolution, right? If you’ve got the worst board in the world and it’s really hampering you, you might have to say “Goodbye board, we need a new board.” But that’s really risky.
What we generally want to do is evolved. I say it takes three years to move from where you are to where you want to be. So what happens on the fundraising front in that time is that some people grow. They get what you’re sharing. They understand that they’re no longer supposed to be hands-on and in the weeds. They understand that they need to give more where they can and that we need to focus on the bigger gifts. So they learn that. Some people leave the board. They say, “You know, this new board is not for me.” That’s okay. Maybe you have an honorary board, a founders board, hopefully you find some other way to honor those people who realized now this isn’t what they’re good at.
Over those three years you bring on new board members and those board members come on understanding the current role of the board and you’ll end up with a few people who love this organization to death and can’t bear to leave it. I bet you all have a few people like that for whom this is their life blood and if they weren’t on this board, who knows but they can’t grow.
However, at that point it’s just a few. If you have a board of 15 or 20, you might have just two of these people and the majority will rule and move the organization ahead. So we’re trying to get to that point where the fundraising matches the needs of the organization as it becomes a governing board.
So I’m going to share five steps that are critical to getting the board to this point because as my new course says, “Rubber stamps don’t fundraise.” Goes back to what we said at the beginning, we have to have board members who feel they’re making an impact , who have mission moments, who feel they’re a group, who see the difference they’re making, and so forth.
So here are five steps to take. The first is designing meaningful board meetings. Most board meetings need help. I have been in hundreds of them. I’ve never been in the board meeting where I didn’t feel there was some wasted time or wasted opportunity. Wasted time and wasted opportunity. Let’s think of the investment we’re asking our board members to make. Let’s say we have 20 board members and we’re going to have a two-hour board meeting. We’re going to send them materials in advance. They’re going to have to travel to and from, maybe five minutes, maybe half hour and an hour.
Let’s say on average altogether there’s an hour or travel, an hour of looking at materials, it could be four hours per board member not including committees and we’ll talk about that in a minute. So we have now spent 80 hours of board time to have this board meeting. Are your board meetings worth 80 hours of board time? What is happening in them? What is happening in them?
So in order for them to be meaningful they have to focus on strategy and oversight. So one, I’ve seen many executive director reports which focus on activities, operations, this is what we did, this is what we accomplish, we had a great event, we instituted a new offshoot of this program here, we have two new staff and such . . . and the executive director is not talking about long-term strategy. Or we have our board members reporting on their committees and the committee’s work saying we met, this is what we talked about, this is what we accomplished, spending a lot of time on that. Well, there’s nothing strategic and there’s really nothing to have oversight over.
So a very important point here is to have every issue brought before a committee first. Now, there are young organizations. There are small organizations. In very small organizations, there may only be two or three committees. But to the extent you can put the work in the committees and have them only bring actions steps, things that it needs to be voted on to the board, you will be freeing up time for everything else that’s important that we’re going to talk about. Most of that reporting can be done and should be done in advance because we need to respect the committee work. If we don’t respect the committee work, then we’re lost.
So often we meet in committee and then we review everything the committee did in the meeting. And we’re not respecting the committee work. So while we want board members actively engaged in critical matters, right, to the extent that board members are reacting to committee recommendations by wordsmithing, or opening issues, again, it’s disempowering the committees and it’s not strategic. And so it disempowers the committee members, and it doesn’t lead to a board meeting that’s actually strategic in moving the organization ahead. And it’s not leading to one where everyone feels they’re altogether.
So board members can, of course, make some helpful suggestions but generally, you need to accept the recommendations of the committee unless there’s a big risks, something’s gone really off the rails, which is unusual if you’re committee structure is working well.
Correct, we want focused, engaged discussions on strategic issues. This is what helps board members feel they’re having an impact and that their time is worthwhile. And if they do, they will be much more willing to fundraise. So think of your board meetings and how you’re using them now and how you might improve that.
I know everyone wants a platform at these board meetings. People want to speak up. They want to see that their work has been valued. But we often err on the side of reporting much too much which leaves not enough time for two things. One, strategic discussion, and two, mission moments, which are critically important.
Bringing board members to the mission, and that can happen in many ways. I’d like to launch another poll, Steve, and I’d like to know on average how often each year your board members actually see program in action. How often do your board members see programs in action? Never, once, twice, three or four times, or five or more. Let’s see what we got here.
I’m often amazed, and while you’re recording your choices, I’ll share that we do ask board members to spend a tremendous amount of time at our organization, but if almost all of it is at board meetings and committee meetings or at special events, we’re not giving them as much mission moment time as they need. Now, we’re going to talk about how to bring that to the board meeting but it’s so important to see programs in action.
Okay, so we’re going to go to the results now. It looks like we’ve got two-thirds of you chimed in. So why don’t I skip to the results so you can all see them. Wow, almost 15% of you said on average, never, 27% one time a year, 22% two times, about a quarter of you, three or four. Bravo to the 12% of you five or more times. And I see they’re still coming in. So imagine if your board members never see the program, then how can they be inspired? Now, we’re going to talk as I said about bringing it to the organization. I’m going to close the poll and share my slides again so we can continue on.
So we have to have an expectation that board members visit programs a certain number of times a year. They must visit the program. They must, must, must. You can have staff and clients come and present anecdotes on the impact. You should have that at every meeting. That doesn’t substitute for people going out to the program.
Now, I’m often asked, “Well, what about national and regional organizations?” It does get harder if you’re nowhere near the program. And I could have asked that question where most your board members live within let’s say 25 miles of the program or something like that. I don’t think the numbers would be vastly different, but a little different.
If it’s national, what can you do? In this day and age with technology, we can do a bit more. Right? We can have live streaming depending on what it is. We might have to do very interactive videos that we share with board members. But where possible physically board members need to spend their time seeing programs and you may need to take that time away from board meeting and committee work.
I often ask organizations, “Can you sacrifice one board meeting a year?” The truth of the matter is, if your board is meeting often, and I would love to ask all sorts of questions here like how often does your board meet. More often a board meets the less strategic each of those meetings will be. And the less work a committee will do. And as organizations grow they often move to fewer and fewer meetings, so that the work is done by committee.
The more you spread out your board meetings the more strategic those meetings have to be because of what you have to accomplish in them. And it leaves less time for simply presenting and having open discussions on things that don’t need to be discussed. And that opens up time for board members to then visit programs and fundraise because we can only expect so much time. So we want our board members to go visit programs and then come back and report on what they learned and share it with everyone.
The last time I worked fulltime at Hudson Guild, one of the old settlements in New York, any of you on the phones from New York today probably know of the organization. We expected each board member to go twice for a long visit that included meeting with the program director, touring, speaking to participants and such, to a different program each time twice a year, and then to come back and report on it.
So three or four board members were then expected to report at each board meeting on what they heard. And it really helped to get the board members to understand the organization better, to be more passionate about it, and to be more articulate talking about it. Because one of you in the pre-chat talked about how hard it is to get board members to feel comfortable with what they’re talking about.
And this is a big issue. It’s one of the things I address most when I train. As I said, we as staff live and breathe our organizations every day. We know a lot about them. It makes it easier for us to talk about them with others. Most of our board members, even the most passionate and committed, they spend time with their organization and then they go on with their lives. And I think we underestimate how difficult it is for them to feel conversant and to have confidence in what they’re saying when they have so little contact. The more contact we give them, the more conversant they will be.
But I want to underscore that if we want them up their fundraising though, this isn’t part of the five recommendations for today, we need to spend more time helping them make their own personal case for support. What it is they would say if they have two or three minutes with someone? What can they say passionately and authentically in their own voice about your organization? Do you ever give them a chance to practice that in the board meeting? Maybe take 10 or 15 minutes and ask everyone to do it in small groups trying to be impactful in what they say, visionary, right, trying to be very lofty and inspiring. And then give them a chance to do it again, so very important.
Again, for regional or national organizations it is more challenging but technology has made it easier to at least bring the programs to them if we can’t bring them to the program. So that is three, board members and the mission. And it is as you see in the numbers today we have long ways to go in involving board members in a way that can build that passion and commitment.
The fourth is agreeing on and enforcing expectation. Boards work best when they know what’s expected of them and they’re confident that everyone else knows what’s expected of them and it’s living up to the expectations. You’ve probably heard, “I can’t do my job if I don’t know what it is, and I won’t do it if I’m not sure my teammates are doing there’s as well.” I’m sure you’ve all had that experience, right? First of all, if I don’t know what it is, I can’t do it. But if I don’t think everyone else is doing it, I probably am not going to do it either unless I’d have a lot of guilt and this huge sense of responsibility.
I didn’t mention at the beginning I’m doing a lot of this work and you’ll see his name at bottom with Michael Davidson. He’s one of my experts at Asking Matters. He’s a board and governance expert. He would start as a lawyer but he’s been working with nonprofits for 30 years. He and I had been working together probably for 16 and we’re now developing a lot of this together and I share it now because Michael is rower. And there’s a book called, “The Boys in the Boat” about rowing and such, and the quote says, “You will be the best rower you can be when you trust your teammates.” This truly is about teamwork. Boards are about teamwork.
So you have to make the expectations clear. You have to have a job description that is very clear. And actually, Steve, I’m going to send you to send to everyone as a bonus a job description for a board member what clearly defines their responsibilities which is both quantifiable and attitudinal, right, where you can measure performance standards along a whole bunch of lines.
So what are those lines that have to be clear? One, board member attendance at meetings. It is critical. You can’t have board members who don’t show up just because they write a big check and they’re influential. It is the fastest way to deflate the entire board.
You need to be clear on committee participation. Whether you expect people to take on some leadership role, what their personal contributions will be and what their fundraising involvement will be. I see many job descriptions out there that are really not clear on this but we’re getting better and the job description we send you will have some of that wording in it so that you can be clear about what that means.
So there are a bunch . . . in addition to this quantifiable thing, there are some what we would call cultural or behavioral norms that has to be clear in order for the board to be collegial and want to do this fundraising. We’ve already talked about the respect for fellow board members and the work they do in committees. If they’ve done the work in committee and they come in and people are wordsmithing it and picking at it, it’s not going to create the level of respect we want.
We need to get board members to check their ego at the door and say, “It’s not about me, it’s about the group,” not always easy. You have to consider perspectives different from your own. Respect the work of the staff, and a lot goes into making sure to keep that distinction sharp. And as we noted before in terms of committee reports, providing refinements rather than revisiting the entire question. Right?
And while this all sounds like common sense I’m sure, right, making this explicit and agreeing and having everyone agree to them by putting these in the job description or discussing them at meetings, it provides a lot of structure and it provides support for the leadership, the chair, or something, when a board meeting seems to be going in the wrong direction, to come back to this and say, “Okay, well, we’ve all agreed it’s not about anyone of us. We need to respect everyone. We need to work together. We need to respect committees. We all agreed to that, it’s in the job description and that’s the basis here.” All right, we have to start with that. So this is number four.
And the fifth, and then after this I’m going to take questions that I’m sure there are a bunch because boards are so challenging. We will get on to those. The fifth though is that we need a structure. We need a structure to manage the work of the board. So there needs to be some group even in a small board. It could be just one person. It could be a chair, or an officer. There needs to be some group that is overseeing the work of the board. It could be the executive committee, but it can equally as well be as I said just one or two people. Some organizations have used what they would call a management team. It could be composed of the chairs of the key committee. And this will enable some smoother coordination among the work of the various committees.
This group’s got to meet between board meetings to keep the organization, the board in particular, moving along. So what is it that they’re supposed to do, whatever this management team is? So you have to plan for and manage the board activity. You need to look at what people are doing, see if everyone is working, evaluate how people are working, you need to oversee and coordinate the work of the committees not do it, develop the agenda, and support and evaluate the executive director.
And this is the key one that often does not happen correctly but is important. If you can get this management team to support and evaluate the executive director correctly, you will be improving the governance of your organization significantly. It will help keep board members out of the weeds of the organization, help it move in this direction, and it creates the right balance between board and staff.
Here’s the kicker though, what an executive committee or a managing group should not do is make decisions. I often hear that executive committees are there to make decisions in between board meetings only if it’s an emergency and there’s no way to bring everyone about. You always have to ask yourself, is it imperative that this decision is being made now by this group? Because the more often this committee makes decisions, the less empowered and therefore the less engaged everyone else will be.
So committees have to do their work and that needs to be respected by the board and the executive committee needs to do or your management team needs to do the work it’s supposed to do while respecting the board’s involvement and not thinking the board can’t make this decision, the whole board wouldn’t have enough information, then it’s up to you to give them this information because if we don’t we’re not going to inspire our board members. And if we don’t inspire them, then they’re going to be rubber stamps and rubber stamps don’t fundraise. Rubber stamps don’t fundraise.
Now, of course, there’s a whole other piece here in terms of how do you train them, and that’s not part of today though I’ll certainly take a couple of questions on that and try to answer that but you can even train them until you created the appropriate jobs, you’ve given them these mission moments, you’ve treated them as a cohesive team so that everyone feels they’re in it together.
So those are five significant recommendations for how to improve the governance as your board moves from hands-on to governing. And you need them to move in a very different way in terms of fundraising towards personally significant gifts, overseeing the fundraising process and being involved in the cultivation and to some extent the solicitation of major gift prospects.
So before I take questions and, Steve, I hope, please queue them up. There are lots of you so I’m sure they’re going to be a bunch of questions. Steve will be looking through them and sharing them with me. I do want to say it’s actually serendipitous timing because when Steve asked me to do a webinar, we decided on this topic, I didn’t know that I would just this Monday be launching this product Michael and I developed.
If you’re looking to up your game, take a look at this. This is an amazing online product that your entire board or your executive committee or your ED and chair together can take four modules, each has a worksheet, each has a discussion guide, blog posts, all sorts of stuff, and at the end of the day we leave you electronically to a detailed plan. So the idea is to walk away with the plan that improves governance and fundraising at the same time. And you can lay this plan out over six months, a year, two years, three years, however it works for you.
You can actually kick the tires for free in the next couple of weeks. You can save some money and you can just go to our home page from there. We have worked on it for two years and I think it can be incredibly helpful and really be a substitute for bringing someone like Michael or me in which, of course, as you all know is expensive. Many of you would need a technical assistance grant or something like this and this you can do with just some online help from us in the Facebook group. So take a look at that. I’m usually not that salesy on these but I think this is a fabulous product. I think you’ll get a lot out of it, so see if it works for you.
And now, Steve, what question do we have? I bet there are a lot.
Steven: Yeah. We’ve got some good ones.
Brian:Got for it.
Steven:But first, I want to say thanks, Brian, and don’t feel bad about a 30-second commercial because you gave us over 45 minutes of great advice and I think that’s a fair compromise.
Brian:Oh, I appreciate that.
Steven:Folks, everyone else, thank you. But this is awesome. I really love what you said about the committees. I’ve been on committees where that was a problem. So that spoke to me for sure. Yes, we got some great questions here probably more than we can get to but I’m just going to roll through them.
Brian: Go.
Steven: Here’s one from Lisa. So this came up I think during our second poll, Brian. Lisa is saying, “Board members spend too much time visiting programs. Do you think they’re running the risk of maybe then accidentally getting too involved on like the operational side? Have you ever seen that where, you know, good intentions, let’s get them involved in the program and then suddenly maybe they’re getting their tentacles into that? Has that ever happened?” What advice do you have for Lisa, Brian?
Brian: Yeah, it can, absolutely. That can happen. That is the risk but we can’t keep them away from programs because we fear that.
Steven: Yeah.
Brian: There’s no question. I mean I’ve seen people come for site visits and question the state of the physical environment or question someone’s confidence and it is a . . . boards are challenging this way, right? We want them to have this ownership but that’s the right level. So I’m not going to say that doesn’t happen. That’s where a strong chair is really important because someone needs to constantly be telling the board what is appropriate and what’s not. Steve, some of that comes back to how the board is being governed and working. If you as the ED come and share details of the program, you maybe welcoming the board’s comments on them, right? If you’re always talking strategy and long term, then it pushes the board to always be talking that way.
But if committees bring their reports to a board meeting, you’re inviting more of that micromanagement and micro-questioning and commenting. So I’m not saying you can avoid it entirely as you walk your board members to the programs but as you do, be talking about the strategy not actually what’s happening but what is our strategy. Okay, we have a Head Start program what are we trying to do with these families? We’re trying to impact them so the kids . . . ” right?
So they’re seeing the program but you’re talking about the end goal, impact and vision rather than saying, “This is what they do with 4:00. This is what they do with 5:00,” something like that.
Steven: That make sense. Okay, we’ll just keep rolling. I’m going to leave the names of the question askers off these just so we can . . .
Brian: Sure.
Steven: Protect people from any unnecessary [situations 00:47:28].
Brian: Yeah.
Steven: Here’s a good one. I’m curious to hear your take on this, Brian. Are you a fan of a minimum gift amount from board members like a defined dollar amount that they have to pay to . . . ?
Brian: No.
Steven: Okay. Tell us more of what your philosophy there.
Brian: I hate it. I hate it.
Steven: Okay.
Brian: This is one of my biggest bugaboos. Okay. Here are the problems with minimum gifts, and by the way I’m doing some work with OPERA America, OPERA America just did a study of hundreds of opera companies and they found of opera companies of the same size – they had like five different categories, you know, the biggest, midsize, small – within a category those organizations with a minimum gift, board members gave half of what they did where there was no minimum gift. Here’s why . . .
Steven: Interesting.
Brian: Yes. This is without a doubt what you set as the minimum, what you think if going to be a floor, often ends up as a ceiling. Let’s say you proposed a minimum gift of $2,500. Your board members feel, “Okay, if I get to $2,500, I’ve fulfilled my obligation. And I can assume that most other board members are going to give $2,500 because that’s what we’re required to do.”
So unless you’re going to make everyone’s gift public and such, people assume everyone’s giving at that level. And that minimum gets set artificially low because you need to set at a level most people can make, right? And you have a range of people on the board, so maybe you have a range of people, you know, people can give anywhere from 1,000 to 25,000 but you have to set it at 2,500 because you have a couple of people with 2,500 or 3,000.
And then you’re still left telling the person who can only give a 1,000, “Don’t worry, we know you can’t give 2,500, that’s okay.” And it doesn’t make that person feel good. And it’s a substitute for the important work which is meeting with every board member individually, treating every board member as a major gift donor. And asking every board member for a gift based on their capacity, their leadership, their longevity, their passion, their gift they make elsewhere.
Why do we not treat our board members as major gift donors where when for many of their organizations they are our largest donors? Yes, so actually you picked a good question there that I feel so passionate about and because I’ve seen this in action my whole life. You need to have every board member to make a personally significant gift, something they need to think about. However, they define personally significant. It’s something I need to pay overtime. It’s something that makes me forego something. It’s one of my top three gifts to any charity. It’s a gift I have to tell my spouse about or decide with my spouse, not that something I can do on my own.
And that’s what we want from every board member because that is part of this rubber stamps business, right? If someone just thoughtlessly writes a check because that’s the dues of being on the board, it’s not inspiring.
Steven: Yeah.
Brian: We want board members to make gifts that are investments.
Steven: It comes from a good place, right? I mean, yeah, people want to get to a 100% board giving.
Brian: Minimum gifts?
Steven: No, they want to get a 100% minimum board giving, right?
Brian: Yes.
Steven: But that’s a bad way to get it.
Brian: Well, 100% board giving, right. A 100% board giving is different, right? You want everyone around the table, let’s go back to what we said at the beginning, to think I am part of the team where everyone is pulling his or her weight. Do you think people feel there will be equal partners if they all give the same amount? So that’s interesting.
So I know we have at least one person from Seattle. I work with Seattle Social Venture Partners and Social Venture Partners International. So in Seattle, a friend of mine who’s sister happened to be a founder of this organization was giving the $6,000 partner level gift because of her sister and it was actually a big chunk of change for her. Right? It was her biggest gift at that time. And Jeff Bezos was giving $6,000, okay.
Now, did those two people think they were partners in this organization? No. Right? When you have a partner for whom $2,500 is a big gift when you have a board member who makes that gift, and then you have a multimillionaire board member who gives $2,500, are they acting like equal partners? No. They don’t have equal skin in the game. You want everyone to have equal skin in the game and the only way to do that is to ask people to do the best they can to stretch and make a personally significant gift. And it might be $100 for one or two board members and $25,000 for others.
So I say no minimum gift but treat everyone as a major gift donor and spend the time to ask them for quality gifts.

Steven: I love it. The board can almost be your sounding board or your practice arena for the major gift fundraising, because it’s the same, exactly what you said. It makes a lot of sense.
Brian: This is true too. Right. And if board members aren’t making personally significant gifts, how can they be involved in fundraising and asking others whether their friends . . .
Steven:No, they can’t.
Brian: . . . or your other contacts? Right. They need to come from a position of strength and knowing that they’ve done the best for the organization not that they have fulfilled an obligation.
Steven: That makes sense. So that dovetails into another question which is, “How do you find board members?” And it seems like based on everything you just said it’s got to be people that are passionate about the mission. It can’t just be that you’re just checking boxes for like occupations like we need a lawyer, and we need an accountant, and we need, you know, which is not bad to have those people but that’s kind of the wrong way to approach it, right?
Brian: Yes. So as the organization grows, you shouldn’t be expecting everyone on the board to have capacity. You need a number of people on the board with capacity because board members will probably make their biggest gifts or one of their biggest gifts while they’re on your board. And board members are important donors for many reasons including that their gifts often go right to the bottom-line. You don’t have to have a gala to get their gifts. You don’t have to do a lot of rigmarole. You just have to ask them.
So you do need a lot of people with wealth but not everyone. You should still have someone on your board representing the constituents, the participants, the clients, someone from the community, someone who’s an expert in your field whether it’s environment or education or social justice or whatever it is. It’s good to have that voice at the table with the majority of people having more capacity than that.
So how do you find them? It’s hard to find good board members. One of my great fantasies in life is for people to only sit on one and really dig into that board, because sometimes the people with the most capacity are sitting on a bunch of boards and that keeps them from really being fully engaged in a particular board or making what’s really a personally significant gift there. And if people were on less boards, then more boards would have more quality people.
I do think it’s as much about onboarding and not being desperate. And I’d been in this position where we really feel we’ve got to grow the board and someone who seems pretty good comes around and you grab that person and you might negotiate on the terms and really standing up for the value of the organization and what you expect of the board member and, you know, for board members who say, “Well, I really don’t have the time or I really can’t do this,” to say then this may not be the time to be on the board. Might you be on the committee?
And I know some people think someone should first have experience and sit on a committee, Michael and I feel that’s not really practical all the time, that some people aren’t going to want to do that before joining. Or you might miss out on a good opportunity, but you need to be very clear from that first conversation when you’re interviewing each other what the expectations are and what you’re expecting. And some of it goes back to those norms and saying, “We expect the board to be collegial,” right? “Are you good at being a team member?”
You know, if you’re not a good team player, boards aren’t for you. Right? Some people shouldn’t be on boards because they just like leading and making all the decisions. And I don’t think we ask board members that question. And a lot of board members are actually serving on their first board. So they don’t even know what it means to serve on the board when they come to ours, especially in the smaller organizations. We have a lot of newer board members. So it behooves us to be very clear upfront and to try to be less desperate as, you know, we’re not trying to make our budgets and we’re up against the wall.
One more question, Steve? Do we have time for one more?

Steven: Yeah. Let’s do one more. Staying on the contribution topic, when a board member, let’s say they buy a ticket to an event or a table or maybe they bid on something at a silent auction and they win it, should we count that as going towards their sort of board dues or . . . because I have quite a few people actually asked variations of that question. I’m kind of curious to hear your take on it.
Brian: Okay. So I think if you buy a silent auction item or something, absolutely not. You’re getting a product probably at a discount. That is not a contribution. Legally it’s not a contribution and it shouldn’t be counted. Okay. If people buy a table then the net of the cost of all the people at the table eating and all that stuff that is a contribution. Here’s where I am on boards and these events, the problem is we rely too much on board members to make our events successful. And board members want to do the right thing and so they’ll buy a table or they’ll buy a couple of seats. We tell board members, “One of your obligations is to come to the gala, or to buy a table,” something like that.
So what we end up doing is diverting board money that would have gone to the bottom line and we do have to include it because it’s part of what they have, have to give, right? And some organizations have big galas, have expensive tables and that’s where a good chunk is going to go. I think board members should only be participating in events in a strategic way. And for many that means inviting fewer people and giving their money instead to the bottom line.
Every one of you should do this calculation, to take your big event that your board is most involved in. First take out all the direct expenses, the food, the rental, the band, the invitation, whatever you have, right, anything like that.
You might actually also take out all the staff time but for now don’t do that. But now take out all the money the board gave you for that event, not for auction items but for tickets and tables. So one organization I work with brought in $120,000, they had about $40,000 expenses, $80,000, looked great. But $35,000 if it came from board members which meant . . . and they would have given, almost every board member would have given that money otherwise, so the organization actually only made $45,000 out of the $120,000.
So, while I’m answering a variation of the question which is to be more strategic, you do have to count buying tickets and buying tables because that’s part of a donor’s charitable giving. But I think you all know that events are always more expensive and a little less productive than we’d like, than we would have hoped, and it’s very hard to turn event donors into annual donors and major gift donors. Only a few people at any event who aren’t already donors will become significant donors.
So I say use board members more cautiously but be very clear with them about what does and doesn’t count and absolutely do not count the things they buy for themselves in the silent or live auction or even money they spend on raffle tickets, that I believe should not be deducted either. Yeah.
Steven: It’s really interesting how events look when you breakout the expenses and overhead and opportunity cost in that way at how maybe a good event starts to not look so good when you do that exercise.
Brian: True. I’m working with an organization where the director readily admitted she spent almost all of the previous three months on an upcoming gala. Well, let’s say she’s earning $90,000 to $100,000 plus benefits. Did anyone talk about the $30,000, $40,000 and staff cost just for her? No. And unless you’re the Met Gala in New York which is being underwritten entirely and raises $5 million or something like that, you really have to, and even for them I’d say. But for the rest of us we really have to be more strategic there.
So back to what we’re talking about today, our board members are making gifts that they know have an impact, they’re feeling good about them and that inspires them to want to give more and fundraise.
Yes. If anyone has a question that wasn’t answered and it’s really burning, you can reach me at and I’m happy to take some of those questions. It might take me a few days to get back to you but I’m happy to answer that and, Steve, I’ll forward that job description to you so you can send them out to everyone as well.
Steven: Yeah. That’d be awesome.
Brian: Great.
Steven: This was great, Brian. Thanks so much for doing this. Lots of good info, I was not surprised to hear it but there were some first-timers on. Now, you know why I invite Brian every year because it’s always a good stuff, so thanks, Brian. This is really fun.
Brian: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
Steven: And I would recommend, Brian mentioned his Asking Styles from his work, go over at Asking Matters and check it out. He did a webinar for us. I’m going to share the link in the chat. I think it was maybe last year or two years ago, really good webinar on the Asking Styles, so watch that if you’re interested in what he was talking about there.
Brian: As a matter of fact, Steve, I know we’re overtime and some people may go but it’s free. Anyone can take it. It takes just three minutes and your whole board should take it because it’ll be very enlightening as to the different styles of asker and person on your board. It would be like doing a DiSC or Myers-Briggs assessment but it’s specially about fundraising and it’ll give you some really good data on the dynamics of your board as well as help them see themselves as fundraisers. So that they’re less likely to say, “I’ll do anything but fundraise.” So I’m glad you mentioned it. It’s a great and free tool for everyone.
Steven: Yeah. Take it. I just shared the link in the chat. I think I was the mission controller, Brian, when I took it a couple of years ago.
Brian: Mission controller, yeah. Well, I’m assuming then that your second is rainmaker because, you know, we were talking about that. You’ve got a little more extrovert in you than that.
Steven: Yeah. That sounds right, right between those two.
Brian: Right between the two, excellent. Well, thank you and thank you, everyone. And thank you all for being out there fundraising and trying to work with boards. This is not easy work, but I’m a big believer that we’re in a very noble profession and I thank you for being out there and doing it with me. And, Steve, I thank you for having me on again. I appreciate it.
Steven: Yes, it’s fun. Hopefully, we’ll see you all again next week because we got every Thursday like I said, some good sessions coming up. Next week, February 6th, same time, same place. We’re going to talk about marketing. So if you’ve got any maybe MarCom people that sort of interface with your fundraising department or if you wear multiple hats, I’m guessing more than a few of you wear the marketing and communication hats along with development, this is the webinar for you for sure. We got Beth Brodovsky. She is awesome, super smart, really fun speaker, that’s going to be a good session, so check that one out if maybe you want to get some tips and tricks for the a marketing side of things.
And we’ve for other webinars on our schedule through May now already. So you may find a topic there that you like. So hopefully, we see you again next week. If not that’s okay, we’ll see you again in another Thursday hopefully, but look for an email from me. I’ll be sending out the slides and the recording. We’ll give you that job description from Brian that he mentioned. We’ll get you all the good stuff and hopefully we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend, stay warm out there and we will talk to you again soon. Bye now.

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.