Episode 8: Revolutionizing Nonprofit Fundraising: Empowering Board Engagement and Effective Partnerships
Renew your fundraising with insights from seasoned nonprofit veteran Joan Garry. Discover the significance of teamwork, development director partnerships, and strategic board recruitment. Avoid just filling seats. Foster strong bonds and learn effective strategies for active board participation through storytelling workshops and donor stewardship. Tune in to transform your board into a dynamic fundraising team.
Categories: Nonprofit Expert Podcast
Episode 8: Revolutionizing Nonprofit Fundraising: Empowering Board Engagement and Effective Partnerships TranscriptPrint Transcript
Welcome to Nonprofit Expert presented by DonorPerfect.
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Welcome to Nonprofit Expert presented by DonorPerfect.
Hello, welcome to Nonprofit Expert presented by DonorPerfect. My name is Julia and I’m so excited to welcome our guest, Joan Garry. Joan, thank you so much for being here.
Oh, thank you, I’m delighted to be here.
We’re so excited to hear from you today. I know that through your blog and podcast and book and the nonprofit leadership lab, you have become the go-to voice for nonprofit leaders who are hungry to be the best they can. But you came from corporate America to the nonprofit world and you had zero fundraising experience and yet today you are a completely trusted voice to these leaders who are looking to grow in this area and who often struggle to engage in fundraising. Could you share a little bit about yourself and how you got into this space of nonprofits?
Sure, I would be happy to. So if someone had asked me 25 years ago if I would be where I am today, I would probably have laughed. I remember my wife when I was at showtime saying you know, maybe you should go into nonprofit, you’d be a very good fundraiser. And I was like no, no, I don’t want to do that. My wife is almost always right, which is both really helpful and infuriating all the same time. But I didn’t really anticipate joining the nonprofit sector.
I was very happy in corporate America, doing well, mtv and Showtime, but as a member of the LGBT community with three kids, I actually found myself less than content in a job that did not have meaning and purpose and, knowing that I really wanted to be an advocate for my kids and to make sure that the world treated them well. So I decided to apply to join GLAAD as its CEO and GLAAD is one of the largest LGBT organizations in the country and I thought to myself you know, it’s kind of how hard could this be right? And I arrived to an organization that was in financial disarray and that’s a kind phrase to use with absolutely no fundraising experience whatsoever and, as I like to say, leave it to a board of directors to hire someone with no fundraising experience to dig an organization out of a financial ditch, and the truth of the matter is truly that they understood that it’s competencies that drive great development executives and chief philanthropic officers right. It’s competencies, it’s not. What was the last gift you closed lately?
And I think that a lot of fundraisers feel similar to you, Joan. We talk about this a lot, that people kind of accidentally fall into fundraising. They just happen to be great people, people, or they’re very passionate or whatever, but they don’t come in with a ton of fundraising experience. So I’m sure that many of our listeners can identify with how you felt coming into the nonprofit world.
Yeah, I mean it’s interesting. There are two things that my then development director said to me that have long stuck with me. First of all, that most people who run nonprofits are people pleasers Right, that’s just how they roll. And when Julie, my development director at the time, said to me, you know, it does make people feel really good to give to causes that they care about, I was like, oh okay, that actually ignites my pleaser people gene, right. And then, and then she also said something else.
It’s really, I think, always really really important and I don’t think that board members really understand this is that your only job is to invite them to come close, right. They get to decide, right, that once you have made an ask, your work is done Right, the victory is, in fact, the ask, and so that’s been, it’s been. It was really interesting to arrive and begin to understand what fundraising was really about. And since I ran glad I had then board experience and chair to a board development committee, and so, having then played every position on the nonprofit field, I felt like I had some important things to say as both someone who had been a staff member and a board member, and so I thought I was going to launch a website. Someone persuaded me to start blogging and it kind of snowballed from there.
Well, that’s great, and I know when I was in the nonprofit world, and still I have learned a lot from your blog and from the webinars that you’ve done. So you’re such a valid voice in the space and we’re really excited to learn from you today. And you have such varied experience throughout the sector. Like you said, you know, you’ve been on staff, you’ve been on boards. You’ve done a million things in the sector. So covering all of your wisdom in one podcast episode is probably impossible, but let’s just focus on one area that you’re really, really passionate about, which is dealing with boards. So let’s start at a 30,000 feet level. In general, what would you say is the importance of keeping your board in the know and involved in fundraising?
I think the short answer is that you, as an executive director, simply can’t do it all. The short answer is that you have to build this posse of ambassadors, both on your staff side if you have a development team and your board, so that you have a troop of ambassadors that are out there telling stories, right, that are out there and working their hardest to invite people to come closer, whatever that means as a volunteer, an intern, a donor, a journalist, whatever it might be Right. So I think that the short answer is getting your board to understand what development work is about and involved in development work. First of all, it’s one of their jobs, but more importantly, it is you know, I’ve had people who have said you know, I don’t just don’t rely on my board to be involved in fundraising, we handle it all on the staff side.
I hear people say well, we finally hired our first development person, and now the board can. You just doesn’t have to worry about it anymore, like it’s a team sport. My friends, it’s a team sport and and I I believe that engaging your board, enriching them about the organization In fact, the board can help fuel you rather than actually burn you out.
Yeah, and, like you said, there are so many executive directors, development directors, nonprofit employees in general who feel like they have to do it alone and the board is a great resource. But some people haven’t necessarily even set up the board in the first place to be a great resource. You and I know, in order to obtain certain status as a nonprofit, a board must be set up. So some organizations may have just called together some of their buddies so that they can check off this board box.
No really, Julia, I’ve never heard that before.
Yes, maybe you and I are, you know, sharing some lived experience here. So what about those people? You know, the people that set up their board with their friends and their friends didn’t really know what they were supposed to do, and the board has since evolved, but the specifics of what the board is required to do aren’t very clear. How would you suggest that nonprofit professionals can take steps towards setting up the fundraising conversation with their board?
And this is you’re talking here in a situation where someone’s just getting off this, just getting their organizations off the ground right.
Yeah, I think maybe in the first couple of years, or if they didn’t have this conversation in the first couple of years and now there are a few more years on the road, but they still need to have a conversation with the board about the importance of their involvement in the mission.
So why don’t we take the first question first? Sure, and I would say, if I could do one thing and wave a magic wand, I would freeze. I would freeze every individual who is about to put pen to paper on a 501 C3 application. I would freeze. And then I would shake them by the shoulders and I would say, no, this is not just a form to fill out and these are not just boxes to check.
You have to stop and you have to think about the skills, the competencies and the expertise you’re going to need to take this wonderful, amazing, remarkable idea you have and bring it to fruition. Right, because your box checking friends, they haven’t been told they have important jobs. Your box checking friends, they’re all about you, they’re following you and your passion, but are they really passionate about the mission? And the box checking friends were not curated with the kinds of skills and competencies that are going to be necessary to partner with you to be those ambassadors. Right, and what ends up happening in these founder organizations and this stays right, it perpetuates is that the founders end up doing it all. They end up having what I call a make way for ducklings board that are just like you know, I’m the mom of duck and I’m the founder, and all these little ducks are following me and they’re saying like, let me know if you need anything Like. That’s not the dynamic that’s going to drive a healthy and thriving nonprofit.
Yeah, that kind of sounds scary to have a bunch of ducks saying, hey, let me know when you need anything.
I believe there are a lot of boards out there that think that that’s how they operate. You know, they think we have a great executive director and whenever they need us, we’re there. Yeah.
But going back to what you said earlier about the people pleasing, people pleasers, it’s difficult to ask people to do things because you just want them to be pleased all the time.
So asking your board because they’re there is maybe not the best method for people Pleaser right, right, and you know you asked a question earlier, julia, about you know, several years into the maturity level of an organization, you’ve got a lot. You’re going to have a lot of these originals right.
This is the time when it is crucial that you start to recruit at least one or two sort of change makers who you can put on your board governance committee, who can begin to then assess what I build what I would call the ideal composition matrix for a board, for your board. Take a look at what you have, where the gaps are, prioritize those gaps, put a diversity lens on it and then go and start to curate the board you actually need. So you can totally do it if you have, if you’re starting with a group of originals, but it demands that at least one of those originals really gets that the board needs to be different and that you’ve recruited at least one or two other people who are kind of have an appetite for making that change happen.
Yeah, that’s a great point. Looking for change makers in your community is so valuable. Anyway, in fundraising in general, you should know who your change makers are, so bringing them on to your board.
It’s something that I talk about a lot. I do coaching for CEOs of larger nonprofits and I do a lot of work with CEOs who are a couple of years from retiring or a couple of years from moving on to their next gig, and when I talk to the organizations about how ready they are or are not, you know what are the things that you, what are the? How is your board going to be ready? One of the things I talk about is having a board member who is has some kind of experience or expertise in the arena of change management is super helpful. Transitions are bumpy, right, and so change management is a is actually a very, very important skill to curate for on a board.
Yeah, that’s a valuable tip, Thank you, and you know we’re talking a little bit about the board knowing expectations for what they’re bringing to the nonprofits. But we know boards have some other challenges. For example, for me, prior to working at Donor Perfect, I served at a nonprofit as a development director and sometimes I felt a little bit disconnected from my board. My executive director mostly worked with my board, but as the development director I felt kind of distanced. What are some other challenges that nonprofit professionals may face when trying to engage their board and what advice would you give someone like me who feels a little disconnected or feels like I don’t have major access to my board?
So what do you when you say you don’t, when you say engage your board in fundraising, what did what do you? What do you mean? What did you mean by that and what did disconnected feel like? Was it about access, I think?
it was a little bit of both. So, like our board, meetings were held by the development, rather the executive director, not the development director, and so being in the room wasn’t really an option. So presenting fundraising opportunities wasn’t really an option. Or when there were times where I had an idea for what my board would do, I’d have to communicate it with my executive director, who would then communicate it with the board. So it was just a couple of spaces between me and the board, and I was the fundraising mindset, my executive director was the relational mindset.
So it felt hard for me to encourage my board to do fundraising when my executive director was trying to maintain relationships with them without the fundraising piece.
Well, you know right, and so you became more of the transactional. Did you do the thing? No, did you sell the tickets? Did you do the right? And then then right, did you become a bit of a sort of a bad cop of nagging the board to get things done?
Well, yes, and only through my executive director, because I wasn’t speaking to them directly, so he would have to explain to them. You know Julia needs this from you. Did you do it yet?
Yeah. So first of all, let’s be really clear in any setting, private or public, nagging your, nagging your bosses to get things done is not a winning strategy.
Real. This is a real, very important thing to note, Joan Good call.
So what’s missing from the description you just gave me is a partnership between you, as the development director, and the chair of the development committee, right, is it? I actually believe that a thriving nonprofit has a partnership mindset, right? So the CFO is a partner with the treasurer, the ED is a partner with the board chair, the development director is a partner with the chair of the development committee. Right? They’re not providing you know, not just simply providing oversight, you know, to make sure it’s not just about is Julia hitting her numbers? Right? It’s a partnership where there is a clear charge on that committee that the two of you build together to say what are the tools, what is it what has to be true in order for this board to be champions, ambassadors and, ultimately, fundraisers for this organization? What do you need from me? What is it that? What would have to be true in order for you to be better at that? Right? And so it seemed to me that so, for example, when I would hire a development director like you, don’t have to get it approved by the chair of the development committee. But that’s an important partnership, right? And so I don’t know what the status was of your development committee, but I think that most development committees are not well functioning. Their charges are not clear.
I mean, I’ve actually seen situations where organizations did not have development committees, so why don’t you have one? Well, because I want everyone to think of themselves as part of the development committee, and that what that does is it perpetuates some narrative that the people on the development committee are the people charged with fundraising. Right, which is. Which is wrong. It’s just flat out wrong To me. A board development committee is a peer accountability entity to make sure that the board has what it needs to be successful ambassadors, champions, storytellers and, ultimately, fundraisers. Wow, right, and so. So I think that’s really you know. So an example If each member of your board should be completely and utterly comfortable talking for two or three minutes about your organization, why it matters, and a brief impact story with a with a close that says would you like to know more? And until every one of your board members is comfortable doing that, you shouldn’t ever have any expectation that they would ask for money.
That’s a good point. I love what you just said about the development committee on the board. We did not have that and so and I don’t I really appreciate my old organization. I don’t want to speak ill of them in any way. It’s interesting to me what you just shared, that I think probably the disconnect was that I didn’t have a board advocate and I, as a development person, needed someone on the board that would advocate for fundraising, because they were on the board and fundraising was part of what they were doing. So that is a great tip for maybe those who are have smaller boards or boards that are just starting out, to set up that specific development bridge between the staff and the board. That’s a great idea.
I think it’s also it has to do with also a larger conversation about what do committees on boards do Right? And far too often they act like fiduciary risk managers and they don’t act like thought partners Right, because they weren’t actually told that they were thought partners. Yeah, they actually weren’t told they have interesting and important jobs. They were probably undersold the job. So that, so that, so that they say yes or that they wouldn’t say no. And so if there is a development committee, most times you ask a development share what the job of the development committee is they’re going to say, well, we actually provide oversight to the development team to make sure, and then they trail off. Things are kind of going okay, and so is that the executive director’s job, like what’s your, what’s your board work? And there is and I think until we start to recruit with a, with a, with a really serious, intentional description, that the board has its own work to do we’re going to continue to see the same kind of dynamic.
Yeah, yeah, I think we’ve talked about, you know, step one is recruiting correctly, and then step two is setting up the right functions for the board Once they have been recruited, and saying you know, this person owns this, this person owns this, and that. That makes the board run a little bit smoother, which is why I mean that’s how companies work to you know, everybody has a job, so that’s a good idea and you have to know what your job is to yes, and this is this is my thing about board recruitment is that is, that we come from such a place of scarcity.
Around the nonprofit sector is just riddled with this scarcity mindset, and so board recruitment it’s all about. I need to put a butt in a seat and I have somebody who might say yes and I don’t want to do anything to dissuade them. So then, when it comes to we was gosh, we wouldn’t want to tell them it’s a hard job or an important job. We wouldn’t want to have to tell them that they have a fundraising obligation. They might say no, and then I have no but to put in that seat. Right, but the thing we we just can miss time and time again is that people who volunteer to be of interest to sit on boards, they actually want to do important work. They want to do important work. They need to understand that they have an important job. They need to understand what it is. They need to have the tools to do it well. But for the most part, people don’t join boards. You know they joined boards because they care and they want to be really good at their jobs.
Yeah, and it goes back to what you said earlier. There’s the ask which is made by the staff, but really it’s more of an invitation to say Hello, welcome to this opportunity to serve this mission. Would you like to be part of it? And that’s the success. And if they do want to be part of it, then they’re on board. Like we should be able to ask them for things, right.
That is absolutely right, and that’s what I think about is I do think it’s important for nonprofit staff to move away from do you know someone wealthy or wealth adjacent, who do you know who can give money, and instead say you know what we really want you to think of yourself as is an ambassador and a storyteller who’s in the invitation business, that you’re part of this wonderful organization and it’s meaningful to you and it lights you up and you want to say Would you like to join me?
Can I invite you to join me, to be a part of this organization in whatever way that might, whatever that might look like for you, right? And if it turns out that person has capacity, great, that turns out, that person’s a volunteer. We also happen to know that volunteers happen to be wildly generous to the causes they volunteer for. So if we start, I sometimes I think nonprofit executives get themselves into trouble by by making it about that transaction, as opposed to reframing and making it and getting board members to think of themselves as storytellers who are inviting people to come closer to an organization they feel passionate about.
And that’s so much more fun If you’re passionate about this organization and you get to tell people about it. That sounds like a dream.
Right, isn’t? It’s like? It’s like I’m at this incredible meaningful party, right? You want to come. Yes, right, and that. What’s also great about that, julia, is that I can’t control whether or not they accept my invitation. I know that, yeah, I just happen to know I’m at this remarkably meaningful party and I would love for you to join me. They want to miss out. That’s on them. I mean, come on, it’s a great party, that’s exactly right. And then you move on. And that’s what. That’s how. No becomes harder, easier to hear, no becomes easier to hear, because it’s not about you. They just they haven’t accepted the invitation for whatever reason.
Yeah, that’s a great point and that honestly takes off so much pressure. We’re just here to tell people about our cause and if they want to be part of it, they will.
Totally. I mean so you know it’s not like. It’s not like. You arrive to a board, somebody gives you a crowbar and says, okay, crowbar to anybody’s wallet you can get your hands on.
I mean come on Good point yeah no one will be passing out any crowbars that. I know. And if they do, maybe don’t join that work Correct. Well, this is really helpful. Let’s get into, like, some of the dollars and cents of fundraising. So what strategies have you seen to be most effective in motivating board members to become active fundraisers? What are some things they practically do to raise money?
Once you do some of these kinds of things I’m about to talk about, then they’re going to want to invite people, right? So if I am, if I am recruited, understanding that I have to use that, it isn’t expected that I am going to reach out broadly into my networks and invite people to get closer to this organization, then then I’m going to understand that I’m going to do that. So it starts there. I believe that that boards should. One strategy that a number of my clients engage in and motivating boards to become active fundraisers is storytelling workshops. I, right, practice storytelling. Sometimes it’s a role play. Right, I am a lapsed donor. You are a board member right, you can do it in pairs. You can have somebody stand up and do their elevator pitch and then the room can say the chair can say okay, what work. Or the chair development, what worked about Jones pitch, what do you wish he had said? Right, so that everybody starts to get comfortable. What that also means and it’s the third thing is that the staff has to continually fuel the board with impact stories all the time. It’s easy to digest current impactful stories with real names that I can insert into my story, right, that I can insert into my pitch so that I can say, so that I can say I love being a part of Organization X. We do remarkable work. We blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Can I tell you a quick story? Insert story there and it comes regularly from the staff to the board. Then I can embed it into my pitch and then I have current stories to tell. I do not think non-profit staff does a good enough job of fueling the board with current stories. I also by the way, it’s not just in one-on-one conversations how about social media posts that you send out to your full board? Can you post this on Facebook? Here’s some copy, but you can make it your own. I’m on the board of this organization. This is an incredible story. I thought you’d really want to know about this. I’m so proud to be a part of X. Learn more at. We actually give board members the tools to be those champions.
Then the last thing that I think is really important in motivating board members and we do not ask board members to do this often enough because we think they will say no which is to engage in donor stewardship programs. This is something that should be run out of the board development committee, where everyone has one or two or three, whatever it is donors, prospective donors. This is a great strategy for people who may have difficulty with a high-giver get it’s that I maintain and develop over the course of a year a relationship with the following four donors At the end of that year, because I’ve been fueled stories, I’ve had some connection. Maybe you as the development director, julia, you say, would you like to renew Mary? I might say I learned that I pretty much think she got some inherited wealth we were talking about that. We might actually be able to ask her for more.
Stewardship of current donors or prospective donors or lapsed donors can actually get you onto the field in a really powerful way. Like I said, it is the perfect strategy when people say, oh, that person cannot meet our giver. Get, put them right in charge of a donor-stewards program of X number of donors. If they are serious about it and they get the right kind of tools from the staff, they’ll hit their giver get.
Yeah, I love that. I think it’s very interesting to think through former givers that maybe could have been good friends with members of my board, kind of like a friendship matchmaking. Anyway, they already are passionate about what our mission was. They are similar to our board members and giving them the opportunity to build those relationships seems like a natural bridge.
Well, I run an online learning community for about 5,000 board and staff leaders of small to mid-sized nonprofits from North America and around the world, called the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, and it is one of our big go-to pieces of content, which is a lapsed donor outreach. Not program, really, it’s a letter, it’s a script. We always assume that lapsed donors are furious at us for some reason. Nine times out of 10, they’re not angry at all. They didn’t even know they stopped giving or life got in their way. It is low hanging fruit of the finest variety and if you can get your board development committee reaching out to lapsed donors, that’s like a grand slam home run.
Oh my gosh, as a former development director, if anybody was reaching out to my lapsed donors, I would be thrilled that that would be a huge piece off my plate.
Right and you’re not calling them to say why have you stopped? You call hey. You have been a very generous donor to our organization in the past and we wanted to check in on you How’s everything going Right? And we also need to learn about our relationships with our donors and wondered if you have not made a donation in a couple of years and we just wondered how are you doing? Is? There you know what might be helpful for us to know about that?
And I love the idea of the board being part of normal conversation. Like lapsed donors is something I had to do very often as a development director, and bringing a board member into that normal fundraising conversation will, a, make them see the hard work that the nonprofit is doing, but, b, will have them see some of those victories which I know as a development director. When I started seeing some of those victories, I was more confident when I went to fundraise, and so if we can bring the board in on some of this low hanging fruit, then maybe they’ll be more confident to share the right stories and to ask when they can, and all of those things.
Yeah, putting them, putting board members in front of donors and just getting them comfortable exercising the muscle of being in relationship with your donors, like you can’t just go from zero to. Would you consider a $25,000 gift? It just doesn’t work that way for anyone, with the possible exception of me in the first week at GLAAB. Yeah yeah, your name again. Yeah, yeah.
That only works when it’s completely necessary to keep the door open.
Great. Well, I think that is really helpful. Those are really practical tips for our listeners to get started. One story I’d love to hear from you is if you’ve seen any success stories from a nonprofit that transformed their board from maybe not super active or, like you were saying, the fiduciary only board to a fundraising team. Have you seen that happen with any nonprofits? You?
know I’m thinking about one board that transformed, and I certainly can tell you one thing that they didn’t do they didn’t waste any money bringing in some consultant to train them on how to ask for money. I think that’s just actually a waste of time, right, and I believe that a board that is able to successfully add financial resources to an organization. It’s a systemic thing, right. It’s not an individual skill or competency.
It is a compilation of some of the things we’ve been talking about, julia. It is about being explicit at the time of recruitment, making sure that you are recruiting a group of people that have different spheres of influence. You have to be able to fish in lots of different ponds. You know what I think about is the most powerful nonprofits have big, big, big posses, and the reason that they’re big is because every person that comes to the table has their own sphere of influence.
This is why the friend of a friend is a problem, right, because they’re not bringing any new people. This is why diversity, at least on one level, why diversity is so important. Because when I, if I’m a, you know, I’m a member of a diverse community, I’m just going to have a completely different sphere of influence and I bring all of those people with me, right, who’s in my roller board. You know when I drag it into a board meeting. So I’d say recruitment, I’d say diversity, and this board that I’m thinking of changed how they recruited. They put somebody who was really good in development as the head of the recruitment committee.
That is smart, that makes sense.
We then worked with the executive director and shifted their mindset from why isn’t my board doing more to why aren’t you doing more to fire them up? Look at your board meetings. Are you engaging? Are you enriching them? Do they leave all ignited? I just see that agenda. I wouldn’t. What’s happening? I just talk about informed plus enrich, plus engage, equals ignite, and that every board meeting needs to actually fire your board members up. So they want to be champions, so they want to go home and say we had the most fascinating conversation.
I learned so much more about the systemic causes of food insecurity in our county thanks to this guest who came in and talked about X and I feel even more strongly I should be doing something.
And then this whole idea of like storytelling workshops.
So these are the kinds of things recruitment, diversity, the staff making a commitment to ignite the board members, often regularly, and then reframing fundraising from you know, from an ask to an invitation. Those are the kinds of things that this particular board that I’m thinking of engaged in to become a very different board, a board where, when those individuals were completed with their tenure, when their terms were over and they got their, you know, perfunctory pen or something you can have them stand up and say tell me about your board experience these last. You know these last three terms and you want them to be able to say something about how accomplished they felt, about how they’ve seen the organization change. They want to be able to talk about how, how the group of board members is, that they respect them so much that they actually know them more deeply than they did when they started, that they have shared values and all of these things start to create an engine on the board where they understand that they have worked to do in partnership with the staff.
That is amazing. I think those four things are so valuable. They would happen in two ways. So the recruitment and the diversity happens in the beginning, and then the other two, the firing them up and making them know their impact, and all that happens consistently, and that’s something that fundraisers and development people do anyway. We’re telling our donors constantly about the cool things happening in our programs. We could do that. That sounds great.
I actually have this. I was working with an organization once we’re the long time ago but we’re doing a board retreat when I facilitated board retreats and the board chair said you know our CEO is. We always hear about how incredibly charismatic it she is and how she lights people up and ignites people Public speaking. Could you ask that CEO to show up at our board retreat?
Like, okay, I have to get through the agenda, I have to do the things so that I can put this retreat behind me and get back to my work. No, actually right. Engaging your board and firing them up is essential to your work.
Yeah, that’s great. Well, and you know you’ve touched on a few things, which this is kind of an off the cuff question for you, but what are some of the qualities that people should be looking for in a board? You mentioned change management. You mentioned diversity. Are there any other things that people should think, oh, this would be a great asset of a board member.
You know, it really depends on what kind of stage an organization is at right and what things are, how big an organization is, and I look at, I look at attributes as much as anything else. As this person been a leader, has this? Does this person have leadership skills? Remember talking to a client one time I knew this person had a very toxic board chair and and I was talking to her and I and she said you’re going to be excited, joan, I have four board members that are going to be voted in tonight. And I said which of them is going to be your next board chair? Oh, I don’t think any of them. They’re never going to have time.
Well then I, am I supposed to be proud of you Actually recruited for leadership skills, facilitation, diplomacy, team player? What are this person’s values? What do they want out of board service, right? Do they want to be something more than a group of individuals? Are they good communicators? But, honestly, the single most important thing is when you ask somebody, why would you like to be on this board? If they say, because I want to give back, move on, really Sure, because let’s say, you know, I live in a town of Montclair, new Jersey, where there are about 95 nonprofits, 95 opportunities to give back. What I want to know is why do you want to be on this board? What is the passion that you bring to this cause? Wow, why Tell me Lived experience connection, what is it about it? So that I can see whether or not you have a pilot light on for our work, because if there’s no pilot light on for our work, I can’t actually I can’t ignite it further because it’s not on to begin with. That is a great point.
I would have never thought about it. I would have thought wow, how generous. Yes, please come get back. I want to get back.
Yeah, okay, you can give back at the Art Museum. You can give back at the Substance Abuse Clinic. You could give back at the food pantry. You could write I mean 95 ways to give back. If you can’t be more specific than that, then you haven’t really answered my question.
Well, and you know we’ve talked about recruitment a lot, but that goes back to the importance of having that question in your recruitment. You know you don’t want to find out later that they don’t have the pilot light on for your organization. No, that’s an early on conversation for sure.
It is an early on conversation, for sure, great point. And you will find, by the way, julia, that when you start to look at your board not as a collective, but you start to say, okay, how many rock stars do I have? How many, how much of my board is dead weight? Who’s kind of in the swing middle right, you’re almost always going to find those people that are dead weight. They joined for the wrong reason. They didn’t have a pilot light on to begin with. Right, it’s those things that you could have flagged for at the very beginning.
Yeah, that’s great. Well, I have one more question for you. I mean, honestly, I feel like we could sit here and talk all day long. I’d so appreciate all of your input, Well.
I’ll tell you that my seven month old grandson has just learned how to babble Like he wasn’t right, he was just before, he was just like shrieking and doing those things. And my daughter said he’s learned to babble just like you.
Oh no, Well, I appreciate it. It’s been very helpful and the information you’ve given is so practical, and I can’t wait to see how people implement it into their board.
I’m super happy about that.
Well, as we look ahead, we’ve talked a lot about what you should do while you’re sitting at the board, but looking ahead in general for boards and nonprofits, do you see any trends or changes happening for board engagements in nonprofit world?
There’s a change I really wanted to see that I haven’t I don’t think has come to fruition yet. Well, maybe this is where we started.
We’re about to start it right here.
You heard it here first, I talked earlier about nonprofits coming from a place of scarcity, right or under resourced. Nobody knows about us. We’re a hidden gem. By the way, you’re not a gem if you’re hidden. My book Anyway the.
I think that nonprofits are historically surprisingly change resistant, largely because their boards are behave like risk managers, making sure nothing goes wrong, being in the fiduciary landscape. During the pandemic, nonprofit organizations broke out of that. They were innovative, they were nimble. Yes, they were totally exhausted but also really fired up in a lot of ways because they were actually thinking outside of the box, trying things they’ve never done before, doing things they thought would take a year. That took two weeks and the boards were excited to, and I I wish that staff would be more intentional about marketing the lessons of that to the board to be able to move the board away from the tarmac of risk management up into the higher altitudes.
I wish that we could start to see more of a culture of piloting and innovation in our organizations. That we learned was extremely powerful in the pandemic and I so want. I so wanted that to be the, the treasure in the darkness of the pandemic, and I and I think that there’s still an opportunity for us to really begin to shift the mindset of our boards from being risk managers to being change agents, because that is, in fact, what the nonprofit sector exists to do Change hearts, change minds, change laws, change your attitude towards nature, all of those things we are in the business of change, and so that’s what I hope for is that boards could be recruited with more intentionality and that they can see the different levels of governance that they should be engaged in, so that they can be partners with staff in trying new things, illustrating proof of concept with a pilot and then going and securing funding right All those things that are possible and moving from that scarcity model to a one of abundance where you start to think about what’s possible.
That was incredibly wise, joan. I really appreciate that as encouragement for our listeners, for a way to fire up and ignite, like you said, their board people that are already passionate about what they’re doing. But here’s a new way to engage and be passionate. I think that’s really helpful and practical.
Well, thank you so much. This has been wonderful. I always really appreciate speaking with you and I’m sure that many people are going to be able to leave listening or watching this with some practical advice.
Well, and you know I mean you all are in the business of supporting nonprofit leaders to be able to fuel the nonprofit sector and I’m always really happy to have the opportunity to add my voice to your chorus.
Thank you so much, Joan. It’s great to see you and hope you will talk to you soon.
Okay, take care. Bye-bye.
Thank you for listening to Nonprofit Expert presented by Donut Perfect. For more information and a special offer, visit DonutPerfectcom. Slash podcast.
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