Finding the Right Role for Each Nonprofit Board Member
On this episode of Bloomerang TV, Stacey Wedding, President and CEO of Professionals in Philanthropy, stops by to chat about the role of nonprofit board members.
Steven: Hey there! Welcome to this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks so much for joining us this week. I’m Steven. I’m the VP of Marketing over here at Bloomerang and today I’m joined by Stacey Wedding. She’s someone that I met at a recent conference and she gave such an awesome presentation that I just had to have her on to talk a little bit about some of the tidbits she shared so, Stacey, thanks for joining us today.
Stacey: Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Steven: You’re the president and CEO over at Professionals in Philanthropy. Am I getting that correct?
Stacey: You got it! You said it and didn’t even get tongue-tied. I’m impressed.
Steven: I practiced a little. I was looking at your website and it looks like you’ve got kind of a cool agency over there. What do you guys do?
Stacey: Thank you, and just for future reference “PIP” is easier. We call ourselves “PIP”. I’m small in stature so they joke and say I’m PIPsqueak in addition to being the President and CEO.
I started the company about eight and a half years ago and had the great privilege the work both with non-profits and philanthropists and on the philanthropy side, work with individual philanthropists, family foundations, sometimes corporations on their giving strategy, what giving vehicle to use, how to make it the most impactful, you know, how to get employees involved if it’s corporation.
Then on the individual side, get to just kind of work with families and how do they bring the next generation of youth up, but that’s about 30% of the business. Then 70% is really working with non-profits, so that’s really getting to help them move to the next level, build their capacity, everything from board development and training to strategic planning and organizational assessment type stuff, just to help them be stronger organizations.
Steven: Cool, cool. PIP – I like that. If you’re in Nevada you’ve got to check Stacey and PIP out because they can help you with all those things.
Stacey: Thank you.
Steven: You gave a presentation about non-profit boards and there’s a ton of things we can talk about for non-profit boards, but you really talked about the role, in a few of your slides, that board members should play. I know there are lots of opinions on that, but in your mind, what are the two or three things that you think that board members should do as board members? What are those roles in your mind?
Stacey: Yeah. Gosh, when you sent me that question in advance, Steve, and I thought about it, but I could talk forever on this and I know we don’t have that time. I think to simplify it, and I’m going to borrow something from a colleague and friend of mine that I adore. She’s a non-profit executive director and she uses the term “doers, donors and door-openers” and I think that’s a really great way to encapsulate it and think about it.
From a board members standpoint, obviously you want board members who do what they say they are going to do. That is more rare than I wish it were. It’s tough to find that because people are so busy. Board members who are not only keeping the agency in mind from a governance standpoint and from a strategic and fiduciary standpoint, but then really doing more of the support role where they roll their sleeves and say, “Yeah, we’re going to help out and help get things done in this agency”. That’s the “doer”.
Then of course “donor”, that’s pretty self-explanatory. Really, trends are showing nationally that more and more agencies, I think it’s up to about 73%, are really requiring 100% of board member giving and there are reasons for that, right? There’s a science behind that because how can I give as a board member, or not give, and then ask you to give? So, really helping provide some credibility, ownership, some buy-in to that agency. The donor part is important.
Then the “door-opener”, of course, that’s pretty self-explanatory. Who do you open those doors to? What kind of friends or relationships do you have? Colleagues. I think sometimes board members get nervous about that because it’s easy to think, “Gosh, I don’t want all my friends and family to run for the hills when they see me coming because they’re going to think I’m hitting them up”. It’s not about hitting people up. It’s about, “All right, I think you have a passion for what I’m doing and I want to get you connected in some way”.
It doesn’t have to be financially, it could be as a volunteer. It could be as another board member. It could be as just and ambassador of the agency. I think “door-opener” is an important one, and one that is kind of an easy one for a lot to do.
Steven: I know you’ve worked with a lot of boards, and I’ve been on boards that are good and that the board members do that stuff, but I’ve been on some where that stuff doesn’t happen and they don’t do any of those three things. Do you find that most boards have those people or do you find that some are a little bit more maybe dysfunctional or a little apathetic to some of those roles?
Stacey: Oh yeah. A large part of my work I’m brought in to help fix those, fix those boards that aren’t functioning right, and there’s a lot of it. In a perfect world, you have a board member who’s going to be all three of those roles, right? Doer, donor, door-opener. The reality is, you have several board members who aren’t fitting into any of those categories and then you have a couple that are doing all of those things times 100, and then the burnout happens.
One thing I’m really big about when I work with organizations and my team and I just try to say is, try to find that board member’s strength and passion and interest and plug them into it. It’s going to be a lot easier if you are someone who loves to write copy for a marketing brochure for me to plug you in to doing that versus something you can’t stand doing like coming up with a budget, right? I think it’s really trying to capitalize on that.
It’s sort of common sense but I think it helps with boards and making sure each one has a project or has something they can get behind, because how many times – I don’t know, you’ve probably experienced it, Steven, and I know I have – where you have board members who say, “Gosh, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing,” or, “I don’t want to go too far or step on the toes”, right? “I don’t want to micro-manage, so where is that fine line?” and they are almost waiting for someone to come to them. So why don’t we, as staff or executive director or whatever our role is, why don’t we come to them and then offer them that opportunity?
Steven: Yeah, I’ve been a board committee member where I have felt that way. Yeah, it’s definitely hard. Those three things are great. Out in the world board members are doing that stuff. What about in a board meeting, your quarterly meeting or your monthly meeting where the board assembles? You talked about some of the personas that each board member should have during a meeting and I think one of them was a cheerleader and a devil’s advocate. Can you talk about that, because I thought that was really interesting?
Stacey: Sure. Thank you so much. We all have our official titles, right, as board members? We’re either a board member or we’re the secretary or treasurer, board chairmen, whatever. That’s fine. Those are important. Legally, those are important. But, again to try to engage people at board meetings and make board meetings a little bit more fun and interesting, why don’t we sit there and take a look and say, “All right, at one board meeting there’s going to be the devil’s advocate”? Literally assign the role. At the beginning of the meeting the board chairmen says, “Gosh, who is going to be our devil’s advocate for the meeting?” and that changes every meeting.
The great part about it, for a role like that, it allows boards that are a little more rubber stamp boards or nod their head because they’re worried about conflict, it almost forces somebody to be the contrarian a little bit. Not contrarian just for the sake of being a contrarian, but it’s the person who says, “Well, let’s think of that in a different way,” or, “Is that really in our best interest?” or, “Is that really furthering our mission?” So, having that devil’s advocate can be powerful.
Cheerleader, some don’t like that, especially the men. Men aren’t crazy about that so I like to say “energizer” and I say, “Be kind of like the energizer.” What does that mean at a board meeting? Well, that person, literally their assigned role is to figure out, do they start the meeting off with something fun and different? Is it some kind of icebreaker? Who said that board meetings have to be dry and boring and the same thing? Nobody, so let’s try to mix them up so people want to be there.
Having that energizer, having the time keeper. You can have a time keeper at a board meeting that really is saying, “All right, we’ve spent too long on this. Let’s move on.” I even say parking lot attendant. Have a parking lot. Anyone who has been to a retreat session knows that a good facilitator puts on the wall a parking lot where you park issues that aren’t appropriate to that topic or maybe need to be revisited later or in more depth. Well, great. Have your parking lot attendant that is there for when things get a little bit out of control or someone is spending way too much time.
Now obviously, you want to do this in partnership because you don’t want a parking attendant taking over if a board chairman really feels like the issue needs to be addressed. There needs to be some bit of a partnership but the parking lot attendant can be the person to say to the board chairman, “Hey, do you think this should go in the parking lot?” and if the board chairman or the rest of the board says, “Yeah,” then great, parking lot attendant parks it over there. There are just some fun ways, I think, to jazz it up a little bit.
Steven: I love the devil’s advocate. I may volunteer to be that because I can kind of be contrarian sometimes. I like that a lot. It makes sense because you want someone challenging what is being said because if things go unchallenged, yeah, it’s like you said, a rubber stamp board, and that’s not good for anyone.
Stacey: It is. I always get worried when you see boards that are just a little bit too comfortable agreeing with each other and I’m not sure where in society it became bad to have a different opinion or to share something or to say, “Is this in our best interest?” and yet, there are people who can take that very personally. So, by assigning that role people people know to expect it, right, and it can help a little bit.
Steven: People won’t be offended maybe so much to an opposing view point.
Steven: Speaking of sharing things, maybe we could take a step back and put ourselves in the shoes of maybe the ED or a fundraiser. What do you think people should report to boards? What data do you think is really important to share with the board to maybe get their opinion or feedback on versus some things there with them or maybe things that don’t get shared that should?
Stacey: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting because I think that for this question there’s no one-size-fits-all. I wish I could say it should be A, B and C, right? I think in some ways the beauty of a question like this is that it should be a question asked to your board, right? “Board, what do you want to hear about? What do you want to measure? If we’re looking at success and we have a strategic plan in place, what are we measuring? Then, do you know where we’re at with that?” Then you kind of go backwards from there.
I think the discussion needs to start out a little bit larger, right? You’re having what is important for the board to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities and I think some common ones, obviously basic ones are from a program or service standpoint. How are we moving the dial with that, and that can look a lot of different ways. So you’ve got, I almost think of a dashboard type concept, you know?
You do have kind of a dashboard and I know Bloomerang offers some great tools too with your donor database and sort of donor retention and sort of charts and graphs and all that great stuff. I think finding ways to look at what is important. For some organizations, from a fundraising standpoint it might be, okay, we need to look at donor attrition or donor retention and measure that. For others, it might be we need to just really grow our donor base or maybe it’s about how many board members are actually giving right now.
Stacey: Talking about that forces an organization to really start talking about what is important and not measuring everything. It really says, what is our focus and how are we going to know a year from now that we’re successful? How do we want to move the dial? We can’t move it on 10 things related to the board, or 10 things related to programs but maybe there’s one or two key indicators, right, that we can.
I think it’s just a discussion like that but some of the things . . . I think it’s a great report card. Boards seem nervous about sometimes holding themselves accountable and so I’m a big fan of beyond just the agency health and the financials and the program metrics and that kind of thing, I’m a big believer in that it’s a great tool if no one wants to do it for anything else but just their board. How many members are attending? How many are actually giving? We don’t have to list their names, right, but we can put at least where this was compared to last year. So it’s a great report card too for boards themselves to do a check of, “Oh, yikes. We’re not really performing the way we should,” or, “We’re doing great.”
Steven: I love that, yeah. Forget about the non-profit metrics, let’s look at the board. I love it.
Stacey: I know. I just think measurement in general though, Steve, to you question, I just think measurement in general is important. I think how many of us do things and we don’t have any clue? I don’t know if you have probably seen this with the groups you work with and the boards you serve on, but every non-profit, the common thing they say when I talk to them is, “Gosh, we want more people to know about us. We want to be a household name in the community.”
I always go back to asking, “Why?” Because a lot of times, they don’t need to be a household name, and yet for some reason they think they need to be another Nike, right? And they don’t. Who it they really need to target? Who is that target audience and how do they design things appropriately for that and then how do they measure it? Measurement takes time, as we know. It takes human resources and capital so that’s why I’m all about start small, start easy and then just build form there.
Steven: Love it. Perfect. Stacey, this was awesome. Thanks so much for the tips.
Stacey: Thank you! Thanks for having me. You guys are great.
Steven: Well, this was fun having you and I want to give you the last word to tell people how they can find out more about you and PIP over there in Nevada.
Stacey: Sure! Yes, PIP. Come check out PIP and me, as PIPsqueak, right? Come to Profinphil. That’s P-R-O-F-I-N-P-H-I-L dot com. That’s our website. I have a regular blog on a lot of these types of issues and also share some resources on that. Of course you can find us on social media too and you can connect through all of that or send me a message through the website, so, profinphil.com is your answer. Thanks for having me.
Steven: Alright, I’ll post all of that and that’s a really good blog, by the way. I was reading your blog this morning. Really good concept.
Stacey: Thank you. Thanks so much.
Steven: Check that out. Check out Stacey. Follow her online for some more advice beyond just boards. Stacey, thanks for being here. This was awesome.
Stacey: Thanks for having me. Keep up the great work.
Steven: All right, guys. Thanks for watching. We will catch you next week with someone just as smart as Stacey, although I don’t know that they’ll be quite as smart because she’s really smart. But we will try our best. We’ll see you all next week.
Steve: Bye now.