Do you have trouble getting your board members to raise funds? Secretly, your board members WANT to raise funds, and they’re embarrassed that they don’t.
Susan Detwiler recently joined us for a webinar in which she provided short-, medium-, and long-term techniques for bringing board members along the spectrum from fundraising bystanders to participants.
In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:
Steven: Susan, my clock says it’s exactly 1:00, do you want to go ahead and get started?
Susan: That’s good to me.
Steven: All right, cool. Good afternoon everyone, if you’re on the East Coast, good morning, if you’re on West Coast, or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s webinar, Getting Your Board on Board with Fundraising. And my name is Steven Shattuck, I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang. I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.
Just some housekeeping items before we get started. I want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and I’ll be sending out the recording, as well as Susan’s slides a little later on this afternoon. Possibly tomorrow morning, depending on how much we have to do this afternoon. So look for those from me, you’ll be able to revisit the content at your leisure and also share it with anyone in your office if you want to do that. Don’t worry too much if you have to bounce early. You’ll definitely get all the content of the recording.
As your listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your screen. We’ve already got some discussion going, which is great. If you hear something that maybe you want to ask Susan about or have a comment or question, please do not be shy. We’re going to save some time at the end for a little Q and A session, probably about 10 or 15 minutes towards the 2:00 hour. Don’t be shy about that. We’d love to get some discussion going. It’s always fun to see that happen.
Just in case this is your first Bloomerang webinar with us, welcome. If it’s your first, we do these webinars just about every Thursday. We bring on a great guest for a totally educational presentation. In addition to that, Bloomerang also offers some really great donor management software. If you’re in the market for that, if you’re interested in learning more, please feel free to visit our website. You can see a video demo, you can see some product screenshots. We’d love for you to check that out if you’re interested.
I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guest. She is Susan Detwiler. Hey Susan, how is it going?
Susan: Doing fine, how are you?
Steven: Good, so glad for you to be here. This is always a good topic. A popular topic, I’m so excited to hear what you have to say about getting boards on board with fundraising. Just in case you guys don’t know Susan yet, she’s a licensed Standards for Excellence consultant. She’s got over 12 years in the non-profit world, in addition to 23 years in the for-profit sector. She works with boards, she works with executive directors, development directors, just really to be a catalyst for non-profit boards that need some change.
She works with boards to help with the administration, conducting strategic planning, governance education, and developments. She also facilitates a lot of really cool customized board and staff retreats and she’s going to be bring that knowledge to bear in today’s presentation. She’s worked with lots of organizations including the Portland Jewish Academy, Rehoboth Society, Food Bank of Delaware, Park East Synagogue, Delaware Theatre Company, lots of non-profit. She’s got an MBA from the University of Michigan. Susan, I’m just so excited for you to get started. I’m not going to take any time away from you. Why don’t you go ahead and kick us off.
Susan: Love to, thanks Steve and hi everybody. Good morning, good afternoon, depending on where you are. If you’re listening to this in the middle of the night, good evening. What you can see a little bit, if this is about getting your board on board or how do you build a board of fundraisers. Steve already gave you a little bit about myself and I’m a Standard for Excellent consultant and Creating the Future Fellow. Creating a Future Fellow is a little bit newer than the others and it’s given me some great insights that I hope I’ll be able to impart to you on bringing people along the continuum of where they are to where they can be.
He gave you my background. Before you, Steve said that we have a whole range of people listening today. Some of you are development professionals, some of you are board members, some of you are executive directors, some of you are funders, and that’s great because you’re all involved in this and we really want to talk to everybody today because it’s relevant to everyone who wants to see the non-profit sector, to see the community organizations flourish.
As you saw from my background, I have spent a lot of time on boards. I’ve been an executive director, I’ve been a development director, and now I’m working with boards. Over the years, I’ve read a lot, attended a lot of seminars, listened to a lot of speakers about getting your board to raise funds. Some of the advice is make it fun, get the right people on the bus, bring them with you to major gift visits, get them to stop doing galas, and every association of fundraising professional conference at least once if not several sessions devoted to the board.
So I started thinking, if this is a perpetual problem and we’re still trying to address it, maybe there’s something that we’re missing. If we start out with, why do we even need a board? What is the board for? I get the answers to that question as, I usually get to give money, to raise money, oversight, raise money, manage the finances, raise money. And every time I do this in a live session, probably about every other answer is to raise money. But they’re really tasks that relate to a part of something that’s much bigger than that.
The purpose of a board is so that you can deliver your mission. They’re the ones that make sure that you can deliver your mission now and in the future. Sometimes it takes a while. But when the board actually understands that this is their primary role, and the board start making plans for the future. Usually that takes the form of a strategic plan.
Build on your organizations mission, vision and values and then create a strategic plan. Strategically plan how to get from where you are to fulfill your mission. Sometimes you’ll do it in-house, sometimes you’ll bring an outside facilitator to help you build that plan. But either way, a good strategic plan is going to answer some really important questions. A really good strategic plan will put resource development on your agenda.
If your board has a strategic plan, it’s committed itself to an amazing, amazing future. Paint a picture of a future that together you’re going to create, that future that’s inspiring. It’s that future that the individual board members will be supporting each in their own way. And this is different from your case report. The cases support is what you do, it has stories of who you’ve helped. It has stories of what you’re going to do in the future. But the strategic plan is your future. It’s supposed to inspire your board to aspire to higher things.
The work of the board to the strategic plan tie together their role in ensuring the mission with their role in building the future. And a good strategic plan is going to answer these fundamental questions. Where you’re going. Why its important that you head there. What has to be done and by whom and by when. What resources you need in order to get it done? And how are you going to get those resources?
It’s that last one that’s a little bit sticky though. It’s sometimes that’s what the problem is. That’s when we start tearing our hair out because the board doesn’t help you fundraise. But its precisely because your board has made the commitment to a future, that it gives you a window of opportunity to begin creating the conditions that will allow your board members to be involved in it.
Remember that I said your board isn’t the problem? It’s really a gift. Your board is the gift. Your board members have the potential to be your biggest donors. They may not have a lot of dollars to give, but because they’re there and because they care about your organization, they can be some of your biggest assets. They give you their time and give you their attention. Maybe not as much as you’d like them to give you, but they have the potential to be as valuable to you as your biggest donors are. Because they have that great potential, they should be wooed just like your biggest cash donors. Think about it.
If your board members had the potential to bring in dollars as big as your biggest cash donors, they should be wooed just the way you woo your biggest cash donors. They’re your ambassadors. They’re taking responsibility to the organization. They key is to treat them like the all stars that they can be.
But you say, “My board doesn’t fundraise.” By the numbers of people who are attending this Bloomerang webinar and all the other Bloomerang webinars about getting your board to fundraise, it’s pretty obvious that you’re not alone. In a 2007 board source survey, they said that “The inability to raise money is a major weakness of boards of directors.”
Only 5% of almost 800 respondents listed fundraising as a boards strength. And fundraising ranked number one among board areas needing improvement. That was in 2007, it’s now 2015 and in the middle of 2008 which really didn’t help matters much. In 2011, in Delaware, we surveyed all of the non-profits in the state. They asked their board members and their executive directors where they needed more board education, and 77% said educating the board members on fundraising responsibilities is their top board education priority.
Is it really true that your board doesn’t fundraise? I ask that of development professionals and executives and usually when I ask them that question, they have to change it. It changes from my board doesn’t fundraise to something like, “Well, some of them do.” Why do some board members raise dollars and others don’t? That leads us back to the fact that your board is a gift.
First and foremost, your board isn’t monolithic. There is no such thing as “my board” or “the board.” Your board is not a monolithic single entity. You have a set of board members. I’m willing to bet that on every board that doesn’t fundraise, there are at least one or two individual board members who do. Individual board members have different skills, they have different temperaments and different reasons for participating. And that leads us back to the fact that your board is a gift.
You have a set of board members and each one of them has their own skill set. Each board member has to be individually cultivated. Each board member has their own forte and interests. The challenge is figuring out what conditions need to be in place for each board member to succeed. And since there is no such thing as generic board member, there are no generic answers on how to get them to fundraise.
So you say, “Fine, my board isn’t monolithic, I have a whole bunch of individual board members. My board members don’t fundraise. Now what?” Why not? And they’re going to give you a lot of answers. How many of these sound familiar? “I’ll do anything except fundraise.” “I hate to ask for money.” “I don’t have the time.” “I don’t know what to say.” “If I ask them, I’ll just have to give to their cause.” “Hire someone to do it for us.” “Can’t we just get grants?” “Isn’t that your job?” They say to the executive director and the development professional. “I know, let’s throw a gala.” Or one of my favorites, “Bill Gates has a lot of money, let’s ask him.” And I’ve actually gotten that one.
There are underlying reasons and your job is to figure out what the underlying reasons are and help them along that continuum from never, I’m never going to do this to, “Oh, okay. I’ll help” to “Wow, I can’t wait to talk to somebody about what we do.” You’re board is going to be filled with directors and trustees at it. But we’re not in the best of both possible worlds. Your board is not filled with people like that, otherwise you wouldn’t be on this webinar.
What are some of the possible reasons why they don’t come with you on major gift visits? Even board members are at different places on a continuum. I put a few steps of the continuum on this slide, but I’m sure you can fill in some of it yourselves and there are probably other steps in there. The key is to understand where an individual director is on a continuum. Only ask for their rules one step over. Anyone who says “I’ll do anything except ask for money,” is not going to make that leap to go with the exec on a major donor call. That’s just a non-starter. It’s way out of her comfort zone. But getting her to sign letters, yeah, you can probably do that. You can have a pretty good chance of getting her to do that. Pushing people to the edge of their comfort zone is possible. Asking them to step off a ledge, that’s going to make them more stubborn. What we usually do, is we tell board members they have to give up their Rolodex, or invite people to events, or go on major gift calls.
We don’t consider where they are in their comfort zone. Where is that comfort zone? One condition that usually has to take place, is to make them feel comfortable with themselves. Make them feel comfortable with how they feel about raising money. And that means normalizing how they feel. When you have what seems to be an instinctive fear of fundraising, being told that you have to do it, sets of barriers. The word fundraising alone is enough to make some directors run screaming in the other direction.
How do you make them comfortable even talking about fundraising and understanding that they’re not alone? There’s a little technique that I’ve used that I’ve seen change even the most fundamentally obstinate group of directors into a group that’s comfortable talking about how they can help. It doesn’t automatically move them along the continuum, jumping them five spaces. But it at least opens the door to having a conversation and making them feel comfortable talking about it.
Normalizing that discomfort, that’s what I’m calling it. Normalizing how they feel. And the main purpose is to help the board members feel more comfortable with themselves. It makes them more receptive to different ways they can be part of raising resources. It’s really, really low tech. Pencil and paper. Give everybody a small piece of paper that looks just like this. Pose questions on it. On a scale of one to four, how comfortable are you with asking for money directly. Calling potential donors. Meeting potential donors face to face. Providing names or letters or calls, writing or signing personal letters, and tell them, “Don’t put your name on that little piece of paper.” Just answer the questions on a scale of one to four, how comfortable are you with each of these?
Then you collect them, shuffle them up, hand them back to everybody around the table. Remember, these are anonymous, since no one knows who said what. Then ask them each question that’s on that piece of paper and have them raise their hands if the piece of paper in front of them has a three or a four response. Meaning, the person who filled that out said that they’re comfortable or very comfortable with the activity. Very simple, lots of laughter, lots of fun. So that they look around the table they’re going to see that maybe three people have slips of paper that say they’re comfortable with asking people for money. And 10 of them say they’re comfortable calling potential donors to say thank you.
Besides laughter, their entire body language changes. There’s a strength to realize that they’re not alone. Then give them the big reveal. You show them this picture. This is from a board source survey in 2010. They surveyed about 800 board members of non-profits and it shows your members that those of you who are uncomfortable with raising money, with fundraising, they’re not alone. It’s normal. And in fact, it shows that 44% of respondents of those 800 board members, were either uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with asking directly for money. But 87% felt comfortable with writing or signing personal letters.
What you’ve done by showing the wide range among responding board members is normalizing how they feel. You’re normalizing the feelings of your trustees. They’re realizing they’re not alone. That’s really powerful for putting an individual at ease and be receptive for listening to you. Break down the barriers. Break some of the barriers so that they can hear you.
And the body language really does change. There’s a lot of laughter going around the table when you do this exercise. It also points out that fundraising is not just asking people for money. There are other components to the process. They might be comfortable with these other components. And fear of fundraising, the word itself is not to give them the heebie-jeebies. This exercise reduces the anxiety. The person with a real pathological fear of asking someone for money, might be perfectly okay with making thank you calls. They just never realized that it’s part of fundraising. But this is an entree into teaching them what fundraising is. That development is not just asking people for money. It’s a part of everything, its entire continuum of things that they can do.
Now that you’ve allayed their fears, or at least you’ve made them receptive to contemplating that they might be willing to help you with this. Let’s talk about a few ways that you can move them further on to the continuum from never to gung-ho. Building a board of fundraisers is a long term process. There are no easy answers, partly because every single person around the table in your board room is starting from a different place. What works for one isn’t going to work for another. And if most of your board members, most of your directors or trustees are starting from never, it’s going to take a really long place.
Some of the techniques I’m going to give you are things you continue on a regular basis. And some of your board members might be ready to take on more. But I’m just going to divide them into short term, mid term and long term ways of building a board of fundraisers, recognizing that where you are on a continuum yourself with how many board members are in different places on the continuum. Some of these will be very applicable, some of these will be a little less applicable. Some of them are going to be things that you already know. I’m hoping I’m going to help you just put into context of what it can mean for your board members.
Let’s start with short term engagement. First tool, building the relationship. Everything that you’ve learn about building a relationship with a major donor, with a donor prospects, it’s how you build your relationship with the board members. When I became Executive Director of the Hillel Center at the University of Delaware, I learned the location of every single coffee shop in a 25 mile radius, or at least felt that way. Wherever my board members worked or lived, I found the brouhaha that was closest. I met them there. Make a dent in their defenses. It’s important to meet them where they’re comfortable. Be prepared to drink a lot of coffee or tea or beverage of choice. And there were times I had three coffees in one morning. But meeting off sight, one-on-one, builds trust.
In those conversations it’s where you find out where your trustee is on a continuum. What’s important to her? You listen for clues to the conditions that need to be in place for her to move along the continuum. Find out what she values. Figure out what you can use to help her feel at ease. The first tool is one-on-one conversation.
Next one, provide a short term low threat quick task that you can ask board members to do, like making thank you calls. Often the first step in getting board members over the hump of making calls in general because everyone likes to feel appreciated. The thank you call usually makes the recipient of the call feel good and that in turn makes the caller feel good. You can usually use a naturally occurring time to call like Thanksgiving, which I’ve circled there. Really, really important, is to make sure that your board members have give them no more than three or four calls to make at one time.
A list of 10 members and 10 names, is really daunting, especially for somebody who’s afraid to pick up the phone. Sometimes you can only give them two names. They’re the kind of a person who really doesn’t want to do this. Two names may be all that they can handle. But don’t give them three or four names at a time. Then follow up with encouragement, thank them, ask them how it felt to make those calls. Quite often they’re thrilled with the reception that they got from the thank you call because your donors are expecting a call asking for more money and all your board member did was call and say thank you.
So board member feels good, your donor feels good and you can talk to your board member about doing the next three calls that you have on your list for them to make, but they don’t know about it. Simple, easy. Yes, it’s time consuming. Remember, your job right now is not to get your board members to raise you whole bunches of money at once, to bring them along the continuum so that they feel more comfortable taking on the role of helping you.
Other short term things you can do. Make sure you stay in touch with your president or your executive. If you’re a development professional, keep talking to your executive director and if you’re able to, talk to the president of the board. Engage them in regular conversation about the development efforts of the organization because as you do that, you’re reinforcing with the people who have close connections with your board and making sure that they will reinforce the messages that you’re providing. The more voices that the board members hear talking about this, the better. So it’s not just your voice asking them to do things.
Email communications to the board are great, but don’t over do it. You don’t want to make them so frequent that they get ignored. But if you have great news, especially about what your efforts are making possible, let them know. Remember, you’re continuing to make them comfortable with the idea that their roles include being part of the development effort.
Cheerleading is a big part of your job. Celebrate the successes. If you’ve got a group of five people who have taken on making calls, send them an email after the first two or three have made their calls and felt good about it. Send emails to all of them saying, “What a great job you’re all doing. Ken and Joe just reported how much they enjoyed doing it.” And then personal notes, just like you do with the donor, handwritten thank you notes. Probably unexpected, totally appreciated and it makes them more receptive to the idea of taking the next step.
So in summary, your short term tool, making sure that you’re bringing people along from very low on that continuum, to a little bit further ahead, is reduce their anxiety. Normalize their discomfort so that they’re receptive to you. Meet them face-to-face. One-on-one conversations so you can learn where they are on that spectrum and figure out possibly together, how they can take that first step a little further along the continuum. Give them very short, very specific jobs, things that they can be successful at.
Nothing breeds success like a success. Cultivate your board members with education, personal attention, giving them regular top level communication about how successful they’ve all been. I’m not sure what this line says, stream of board cultivation, I suspect when I wrote that I meant continue to give them more information and continue to stay in touch with them. Sometimes our slides don’t say what we thought they said.
For the medium terms. There’s a few other things that you can do. Remember that this is a continuum. You might already have a development committee. If you don’t already a development committee, or if you have a development committee that is not active, create an active development committee. A board level committee, whether it’s a standing committee or an ad hoc committee, makes the development is a board level challenge. It’s a great place to utilize the skills and talents that those board members that are further along on the continuum. Those heavy hitters who are ready to make those major gift calls and who might be thought leaders among the rest of the board members.
It’s this committee that you can guide toward making development part of the strategic planning process. Are strategic plans developed? Members with development committee can be primed to chime in with? And how are we going to take roles with what we’re planning? What part of “we” the board is going to play in all of this? The other voices that are talking to the board encouraging them to get along, to move along the continuum. And along with any development staff you might have or with the exec, the development committee works on a strategic development plan that fits into the strategic plan.
So acquiring the resources that you need to fulfill your mission is integral to how you’re going to accomplish that inspiring vision of the future. The strategic development plan goes hand in hand with your strategic plan for reaching your future. The development committee is really helpful in doing all of that and leads the way amongst your board members for being cheerleaders for the other board members and being other voices that the other board members can hear talking about development. So it’s not just yours.
Another immediate term technique is to assign board members just a few prospects and then support the board members. Give them just a limited number of people that they’ll take on and they’ll agree to be responsible for stewarding. Depending on where they are in the continuum, the prospects that you give them maybe at an early cultivation stage where you’re just asking your board members to say thank you for relatively small gifts. But talking to them when they show up at events.
The key is to get a request for board help to the individual board members comfort level. Create the condition to success, so they’re willing to try the next thing. Here is a sample engagement chart. This might be a little bit hard to read but it’s just one page. It’s easier to handle. It’s not real talking. This is yours as a development professional but your board members should have one that’s just his prospect. Four prospects, one page.
For example, if the board chair has this page, it’s going to make it easy for him to see at a glance what he needs to know about the four donors or prospects that he’s agreed to steward. Who they are, a little history, who’s assigned to them, what opportunities they are in each quarter of the year.
For example, on the top line is someone who’s being stewarded by the board chair. It tells him that Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Smith is who he’s stewarding. There’s a little history about them and it suggests ways to engage them throughout the year. Tells him what they gave the prior year. Three lines down is someone who’s being stewarded by clergy. The wife hadn’t been involved so the first conversation is just a re-acquaintance conversation and then maybe the following quarter you’re going to invite them to see the school.
As a development professional, you have all of these, all these sheets. But your individual board member has one sheet that only has the people that they’re going to be stewarding. You have all that background information, so if you need to talk to them, have a conversation with your board member about who these people are, great. You might be giving them a lot more information about them. But when it comes to making it less daunting, a sheet of paper is easy for them to comprehend and hold on to.
You can remind them about appropriate times to talk to somebody. If you keep in touch with your board members throughout the year, it’s easy for you to contact the board member and say, “Hey, this is a really good time for you to invite Mrs. Smith to this program.” Remember you’re trying to move them along the continuum from never to gung-ho. Don’t push them too far outside the comfort zone or else they’ll get their guard up and just say no.
What are things to do in the medium term? Be cultivating your board members. Remember, you don’t do that for a major gift donors, you don’t say hi once and never talk to them again. Same thing with your board members. Keep cultivating them. Maybe you have another round of coffee is hot chocolate. Remember to keep reporting regularly to them on how successful the fundraising is going. I’ve sat on way too many board meetings where all we talk about is how much more money we need and what are we going to do because we don’t have the dollars that we need. Why aren’t we celebrating our successes? Why aren’t we saying, “Joe did a great job, he just invited three new people to the event next week. Congratulations Joe.”
How much more uplifting and encouraging to the other board members to do it themselves? Keep asking the board members what excites them about your mission. Invite them to use that passion to advocate to others. Stewarding your board members is just like stewarding your donors, an ongoing process.
Engagement tools for the medium term, summarizing that. Creating active development committees, assign board members a limited number of donors and prospects for them, build stewardship sheets for each prospect. A stewardship sheet for each board member. Cultivate your board members as you cultivate your donors. Keep reporting on successes. Not just what you need. Best breeds success, that makes you feel that you want to try some more.
Long term. Long term you start talking about getting the right people around the table. Part of what you’re doing is creating the right people and even if you’ve only moved them a couple of places along the continuum and then rotate off the board. Think of what you’re doing for the rest of the community as these people go on to other boards. And they’re not starting from way down at the bottom, they’re starting from somewhere in the middle of the continuum. So helping the entire community grow.
As you try to move your people along the continuum, you’ve got people who are coming on and off of the board on a regular basis. Every three years, every six years people move off, people come on. As you’re doing that, you’re going to try to get people off your board that are literally further along the continuum and actually ready to be talking major gifts with your prospects.
If your board is currently filled with directors at the beginning of the continuum, it’s part of your job to help the entire organization populate the board with directors who are further along. That means acquiring a personal contribution to your agency. This is from another board source survey and it says that regardless of the size of the board, if the board requires it’s members to give, you have a higher percentage of board giving. This is information you should give to your governance committee so that your bylaws are changed, that your letter of commitment is changed, so that there’s a requirement for some personal contribution.
I’m not going to get into it here as to whether it should be a particular amount, whether it’s a give, get or get off the board which I’ve heard before. But rather, make sure that there’s a requirement for a personal contribution. Because even in small boards they require that the personal contribution, you have a higher percentage of people giving. And the larger the board, the greater number of boards that require personal contribution, have a higher percentage of board giving.
Other ways in the long term to populate your board with people who are further along your continuum is to help your executive and your board president built a robust development minded board. That’s part of your job. Recruit a development committee members from beyond the board. There’s nothing that says that you’re committee members have to be board members, unless that’s in your bylaw. And then have your president and your governance committee or your committee and trustees, recruit people for your board from your development committee. That way you’re populating your board with people who have already talked about development and they’ve already been part of your development committee.
Work closely with your committee on trustees or whatever you call it in your organization, it by your governance committee or your nominating committee. Work closely with them to make sure they understand how important it is to have people further along on that continuum. And continually all through the year, work on identifying your board prospect.
And when you do that, make sure you look beyond your usual suspect. If you have a lot of people on your board who are all about the same place on a continuum, it’s probable that you have a lot of people who are just like each other. That’s that line of yellow rubber ducks. Diversity on the board brings you into contact with whole new circles of supporters. People who have different experiences, people who have different contacts. That’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for larger circles from which you can draw on new board members and to which your new board members can advocate for your organization in helping it with bringing in new prospects and new supporters so that your mission can continue.
Long term, don’t forget to keep educating your board. Continue sending out articles that are amusing, interesting and not too long. Not too often of course, because then they’ll stop listening to you. But these are other voices than your own so that it’s reinforcing what you’d been telling them. Keep development front of mind, it’s an ongoing process. It’s not a once and done. There are so many different things that vies for everybody’s attention, that advocating your cause gets lost in the shuffle. And not just advocating for your organizations cause, but advocating for the cause of, this is part of your boards job. Make sure that you have the resources that you can continue to serve your mission. These articles give them a way to hear from experts, not just you.
Finally, give them a seat at the table. As you’re meeting with the individual trustees, the individual directors, talk about the strategic planning process, or budgeting process. This may not be your first conversation with them. That first conversation way back in the short term to getting to know them, figuring out where they are in the continuum, figuring out what their values are. But as you get to know them, become a trusted adviser, a trusted colleague and talk about being a participant in the strategic planning and budgeting process. Educate them about the importance of including resource development in that planning process.
Every time somebody says “I’ve got this great new project, I’ve got a new program that we want to do,” that new program should include how you’re going to fund it. And make sure that you’re able to build your development plan before the budget is finalized. At least have a draft so that the number that the finance committee expects from fundraising is realistic.
I don’t know how often this happens to you, but in all the organizations that I work with, it’s way too often that I hear of non-profit budget, that use fundraising as a plug number to balance the budget. Whatever they anticipate, they expect fundraising to fill. Even if it’s a 100% increase over what they raised last year.
If you’ve got a seat at the table, if you’ve been talking to them, and if you had a draft development plan ready before they finalize the budget, you can help them understand what is realistic. What reasonable expectations can be coming from development and perhaps get them to understand that they can’t do everything they want to do or they have to step up a little bit further on the continuum and do a little bit more to do their part in raising the dollars.
Summarizing the long term. Help your executive, help your president, build a robust development minded board. Continue to provide regular development education to the board and work at getting a seat at the table so that development is part of the whole planning process, not just a plug number that they’re going to use to fill in the gap. When a board uses fundraising as a plug number to fill in a gap, that’s when you get burnout of your development staff and that’s why 18 months is the usual tenure for development professional in the non-profit if the occasion becomes unrealistic.
At the same time, we have to remember that sometimes we have unrealistic expectations on our boards. Look at the continuum, consider where people are on it and move them slowly along it one step at a time. Next, two steps. Somebody is not ready to step off the curb, they’re certainly not ready to climb a mountain.
In summary and looks that we’re going to have, at least 15 minutes for questions, great. The boards job is to make sure that you can serve your mission and that takes resources. Your job is to create the conditions that make it possible for your board members to move along the continuum from never to active participation. And that’s in recognizing that your board members are and can be your biggest donors, even if it’s not just in cash. Each board member is an individual and has their own story. Each board member is at a different place on the continuum.
Short term, reduce their anxiety. Meet them face-to-face and learn their story. Give them short, specific, jobs to do. Cultivate your board members with education and with personal attention. As time goes on, create your active development committee. Give board members a limited number of donors or prospects to steward and support your board members. Give them development sheets. Give them stewardship sheets so that they know what they’re supposed to do and its one page. Its not intimidating. Continue to cultivate your board members as you would donors. Report regularly on success, not just needs.
On long term. Help your organization build a robust development minded board and continue the regular development education to them. Get a seat at the table, participate in the budget process.
Now, something that I’ve learned recently and this is psychologically valid. Just look over the notes that you might have written, anything you’ve written down, any questions that you’ve got and circle the things that you’re ready to take on and to do. What really resonates with you and if you want to share that, that would be great. Hear what really resonated with you and of course we’re going to take questions.
What resonated with you? “Love the short quiz for board members.” Great. We’ll be answering some of these questions about confidentiality. “Need a draft development plan.” Great. “I like the baby steps for the continuum,” thank you so much. “Needing to cultivate your own board as a major donor.” “Building the relationships.” “Everyone is on the continuum,” great. “Breaking down their comfort level.” “Each board member steward of donor.” “Non-board people on the resource development committee.” Great.
I know Steve is going to be sending out the slides. So I want to offer to everybody who’s been on this call, just those of you who actually took the time to do it, my contact information is at the end. If you send me an email which actually is not my email, but it’s on my website.
If you’d like to ask me a few questions, if you want to schedule 10 to 15 minutes to talk about specific board member, how you can move them along the continuum, feel free to reach out to me. That’s my offer to you because you have been so great and you’ve been actually listening to what I’ve been saying and stayed here the whole time. Steve is going to do the questions.
Steven: Sure, that was awesome Susan. Thanks so much. I really like what you said about the boards on your side. You don’t have to treat them like enemy. I think so often we are hard on the board. But this is good. This is all great stuff. Lots of questions. We’ve probably got time for maybe two or three. Susan, I’m just going to kind of roll through the ones I see here. Jane here is asking, “Can you address the board member that contribute minimally and does not show up to the meetings? Can you fire a board member?”
Susan: Oh, what a great question. I’ve actually been talking about that recently with some of my clients. If your board has a letter of commitment, first of all, you’re not alone. You’re really not alone in having board members that contribute minimally, don’t show up to meetings. What has happened is that has become accepted. If your governance committee or your executive committee, if you don’t have a governance committee, creates we call a letter of commitment, this is what we as board members understand are obligations to the organization. And there are a lot of samples out there and I can send one to you if you reach out to me. On that letter of commitment that each board member is asked to sign is, “I understand I will attend in person or electronically attend three-quarters of the meetings. I understand that I’ll contribute to the best of my ability, give personally significant gifts to the organization.”
It can have a lot of different things on it, try to keep it to one page, make it its because we want to support the organization. But if you have a board member sign that at the beginning of every single year, at least the beginning of their term and every board member signs that, then the president of the board can reach out to that individual and say, “You know Joe, at the beginning of the year when you signed it, we know you fully intended to support your organization at that level, that you fully intended to be at the members. But things happen. Perhaps now it’s not a good time to be on the board because you signed it and now you’re not doing it.”
Steven: What about term limits? Douglas is wondering can you talk about term limits on a board. Is it a good idea, good for each board member, is it good for the non-profit?
Susan: I am a firm believer in term limits for many, many reasons. The biggest one is board member burn out. If you have somebody who has been on the board for years and years and years, they feel that they can’t get off the board. And at the same time, they’re no longer contributing themselves and their time and their energy and their mental capacity to the organization anymore.
Those people are really good board members that you don’t want to lose, you can always write it so that term limits, are for example, two consecutive three-year terms and they have to get off the board. And then you can bring them back on it again after they’ve been off for a year. It allows the place for new board members to come on to the board and a graceful way for people to step off the board if they no longer want to be on the board.
Steven: Yeah, you don’t to go about firing them because you know they’re going to roll off within a certain amount of time no matter what. Here’s one from Gary. Gary is saying, “Too often the criteria for success or failure of a director is calculated on the success of fundraising. How can a director illustrate without sounding unprofessional or unprepared that their success is really tied to having the board do all these things and be fired up and participate?” How can the director communicate that to the board and say, “Hey, I really need you guys to perform if I’m going to be successful.”
Susan: That’s a great question. I wasn’t sure when you first started, when you said directors, it sounds like you’re talking about the development director.
Steven: I think so, yeah.
Susan: The development director is being held to a standard that doesn’t seem to be possible to reach because the boards not picking up their slack. That’s one-on-one conversations. I think that actually goes back to educating the executive director of the organization, educating the board president, building trust first so that they’ll hear you. You kind of have to start before you get to the situation where they’re saying you’re not doing your job.
And when you’re going into a job in the first place, talk about that fact that I fully intend to give you my, all but we’re all on this together. I’m happy to possibly talk one-on-one with a particular situation. But it really is building the trust and having one-on-one one conversations at the very beginning when you first feeling like you’re being held to something impossible, having those one-on-one conversations.
Steven: Makes sense. I know there are a lot of questions we didn’t get to and Susan, thanks for being willing to take some questions offline. Please do visit Susan’s website and get in touch with her. Obviously a great resource, super smart. Susan, this was really great to have you, thanks for being here for an hour.
Susan: Thank you Steve. I appreciate the opportunity and I’m always happy to tell people more about the idea of moving people along continuum and speaking about where they are now and where you can bring them.
Steven: Absolutely and Susan is on Twitter too. You can get in touch with her on Twitter as well. Well, we really appreciate all of you hanging out with us for an hour. We’ve got lots of great resources on Bloomerangs website. You can check out all of our downloadables, our video podcasts our blog.
Like I said, we do these webinars every Thursday. We’ve got a couple of really cool presentations coming up next week, one week from today. We’re going to talk about direct mail appeals. Going to be a great conversation. Then a week after that we’re going to talk about how to win some grants. If your organization depends on grants or would like to get more grants, check that out. There are some other topics there that may interest you.
We’d love to see you again. Please do register early and often. Susan, just a final thanks once again for hanging out with us. This was a lot of fun.
Susan: Thank you, I enjoyed it.
Steven: And I’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides a little on later this afternoon. So look for an email from me. And if we don’t talk again, have a great weekend and hopefully we’ll see you next Thursday. Bye now.