Boards who pass the buck

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I left a large organization to hang out my shingle as a fundraising consultant.  You probably know that most of my fundraising experience has been at larger shops. 

I knew that there was much I needed to learn about fundraising in smaller shops.  I anticipated (correctly) learning first-hand about the difficulty of stretching resources nearly to the snapping point.  I also anticipated witnessing up close the frustration of executive directors who are also their organization’s sole paid employee, trying to accomplish everything under the sun, and often feeling guilty because they’re unable to achieve the impossible.  I also anticipated working with boards who need to understand a few basic principles of fundraising.

I didn’t fully appreciate the depth of the third issue I listed.

Perhaps I’m naive. 

But I’ve been a little astonished at the “We don’t want to know” attitude of many board members when it comes to understanding fundraising principles. 

It’s one thing, and in fact, a cliché, for a board member to fold his arms and say “I don’t fundraise.”  But it’s quite another for a board member to say “Not only do I not fundraise, but I don’t even want to know how our organization can attract funds.”

Of course, this is followed by the boardly nose elevating into the air, with the comment “I was brought on board for my expertise.”

What good is this board member’s expertise when the organization can’t remain afloat and must close its doors? 

I get that some board members are highly uncomfortable with fundraising.  Of course, this is a topic for a separate blog post, and probably most of you reading this could write the post yourselves.  And you probably already have.

But to be unwilling to even learn the basic principles of fundraising is the same as saying “Don’t show me the financial statements – – I don’t want to know.” 

Often, their justification is that they have an executive director who handles these things.  Or perhaps even a fundraiser.  So the board doesn’t need to be bothered with sordid details such as how to attract more money for the organization, because it’s not their problem.

Newsflash:  It’s their “problem.” 

Board chairs and fellow board members must become more courageous and begin working on exit plans for damaging board members such as these.  And they mustn’t be allowed to roam the non-profit sector pretending to be among us.  Board candidates should agree to a very clear and comprehensive set of expectations before signing on.

And yes, I also get that it’s hard to recruit board members.  The temptation is to grab anyone who seems to appreciate your organization’s cause and knows how to breathe in and out. 

Perhaps we as a sector need to push even harder to elevate the nonprofit board experience, so that it’s a more sought-after experience.  For example, board members who are decision-makers at their companies should encourage the hiring and promoting of employees who have volunteer experience.  If enough employers did this, people would be standing in line for volunteer opportunities. 

I recently advised a fundraiser to tell her organization’s board that her salary is fixed.  But the quality and quantity of successful fundraising efforts could be affected dramatically with Board support.  So, theoretically, it could take her one year to raise a particular sum, or it could take 3 -5 years if she does it without support.  If the Board is willing to pay her 2 or more years of additional salary to raise a sum that could be raised in 1 year, then the organization must be so flush that they really don’t need a fundraiser after all.

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