Making Board Membership More Meaningful

By: W. Milton Key, Jr., Partner

In case it didn’t make it on your New Year’s resolutions list and you still have an open slot, add this one: make board membership more meaningful by helping them better understand the fundraising part of their role.   As fundraising professionals and nonprofit leaders, we are revenue drivers, related to the fiduciary part of a board’s responsibility.  We owe it to board members and the organizations we serve, to make board membership as meaningful and as well understood as possible, when it comes to the fundraising part of a board member’s fiduciary role.

Whether your organization is young or decades old, a review of what board members understand is expected of them and needed from them as it relates to friend-raising and fund-raising may be in order.  Consider the following fundamental steps as potential growth opportunities for your board this year:

  1. Create or review/revise position descriptions – Are there clearly defined expectations of what it means to be a board member, in general, and for your organization, specifically? Minimum qualifications, meeting attendance, committee participation, giving, advocating, making introductions and other friend-raising/fund-raising activities – all are worthy of being understood by current and potential board members.
  2. Adopt a board giving goal – Large or small, whether for annual operations, capital or endowment (or all), work with one or more board leaders or your fundraising-related committee to develop the giving aspect of board leadership, by setting annual goals for board giving. The example of one or two widely respected board members is often all it takes to begin inspiring others to participate, over time.
  3. Invest in your board – No matter their backgrounds, many board members are new to nonprofits, fundraising, case statements and the like. Even those who have served on other boards may not be confident in their understanding.  Give them opportunities to learn from others by forwarding or subscribing them to print/online resources for best practices related to board membership.
  4. Recruit at least one board champion – Success will almost certainly depend on at least one board member who understands the opportunity, who can advise you wisely and who will advocate for the new idea among his/her fellow board members.
  5. Plan well, be consistent in executing the plan, and give it time (including years).

Many years ago, I had a close-in view during a board’s transformation into embracing its fundraising leadership role for the organization.   The board chair was a long-time member of the board who was passionate about the well-established organization.  He had made several gifts to the organization over the years.  The CEO was new, and he was hired, in large part, because the organization needed a fresh approach that included new/remodeled facilities and more funding for financial assistance.  The board chair, the vice chair, the CEO and the chief advancement officer recognized that the board wasn’t leading by example in the areas of friend-raising and fundraising, and they worked together to improve it.

By consistently executing a strategy, within a short number of years, the board became the organizational pacesetter for giving to the organization.  Beginning with the advocacy of the two board leaders and the board giving goals adopted by the board each year, real change began to occur.  Simply by meeting the new expectation of 100% annual participation during the first year of the shift, the board began to raise the bar.

As the development staff became more familiar to board members, they began to personally experience the increased connectivity that comes through charitable giving.  Within a few years, a tradition developed that the board would adopt a recommended giving goal from the development committee.  I recall one year, in particular, when the board giving goal was one-quarter of the annual fund goal…and they reached it by the end of that year, with gifts ranging from the hundreds to many thousands of dollars.  Years later, even as board members have come and gone, the tradition of board leadership in giving remains because of the inspiring tone it sets for the broader body of donors to the organization and the impact they understand it has on fulfilling the mission of the organization.

May 2016 be a year of meaningful service for your board members, led by your vision, nurturing and partnership with them!

For additional board-related reading, here’s a link to recent comments on board leadership by Jean Case, CEO, The Case Foundation:  http://blog.boardsource.org/blog/2015/11/19/an-imperative-for-nonprofit-boards-the-time-is-now-to-step-up-your-game/.

Here’s resource you and your board might find helpful:  https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/board-roles-and-responsibilities