Don’t Treat Your Board Chair And Campaign Chair Like This!

A previous blog offered suggestions on how to aggravate your board in four easy steps.

Following up on that post, I’ve received suggestions on how to not only tick off your board chair but your campaign chair as well. Some of these came from chairs that we have worked with throughout the years. It brought back memories of campaigns years ago in faraway places, but all for noteworthy organizations and important causes.

 1) Keep them in the dark until the last minute.

Chairs of volunteer boards, committees and campaigns expect to be a leadership partner with the organization–whether it is a university, museum or other non-profit. As such, they know that they will be expected to make remarks at groundbreakings, ribbon cutting ceremonies and other special events.

Generally, there is someone in the organization tasked with the logistics of the event; everything from ordering flowers, to sending invitations and coordinating with the caterer. Sometimes, caught up in all the advance work, the speaking roles and the actual agenda for an event are left to the eleventh hour.

This is not a problem for the university president, who often has a speech writer assigned to this task weeks in advance, but it could be for a volunteer leader. There have been events where the volunteer chair was handed bulleted remarks right before walking to the podium. Or, in another instance, the volunteer chair was told to announce a significant contribution, only to be trumped by the speaker just ahead of him.

One volunteer mentioned reading of a major contribution in the newspaper, from someone whom she had participated in soliciting. This same chair expressed frustration of not being invited to participate in solicitation strategy meetings or peer rating session, or if she was invited, it was at the last minute. Still others have reported not knowing who was being cultivated or solicited until the reports were published.

 2) Don’t acknowledge or thank them for their volunteer efforts.

The chair almost always spends twice as much time as the average volunteer in preparing for meetings, following up with other board members and attending additional events. If the chair lives out of town, her attendance may mean she incurs travel costs–airfare, hotel, rental car and meals. For most non-profits, the volunteer pays these out of pocket.

Chairs have reported that although their financial gifts are acknowledged, sometimes their time and expenses are not. One said that he didn’t expect to receive recognition, but a simple thank-you  would be appreciated. Another was told by a vice president that it was a privilege to serve on the board, and that she should be thanking the institution instead of the institution thanking her.

 3) Assume that, as chairs, they are always ready to make their next gift, cultivated or not, and for any size, big or small.

Chairs should lead by example with their giving and most of them know this instinctively, or else they have been given the “honor” of chairing partly in consideration for their generous giving.

One board chair told me how insulted he was that the dean of his college assumed that he would contribute to a small scholarship fund in honor of the dean. This was after the chairman had funded an endowed scholarship, an endowed professorship and a wing of the new building. Another mentioned she felt like a “walking pocketbook” after repeatedly being solicited multiple times a semester. Her comment, “I’m only as good as my next gift,” demonstrated how she believed the organization valued her.

What other behaviors have you seen exhibited that can make a board chair or volunteer feel undervalued and unappreciated?