Are You Providing Your Board with Mission Moments?

During the 2015 Young Nonprofit Professionals Network National Conference in Little Rock, there were a few great presentations focused around getting the most out of your board, which particularly highlighted intentional relationship management as the core of nonprofit board work.

One point that stood out to me during these sessions was how some boards create “mission moments” — opportunities for their members to reconnect with the mission and critical work of their organizations.

A few examples of ways to do this are:

  • a performing arts organization that holds one of its meetings each year on the stage;
  • inviting beneficiaries of the work to share their stories with the board during a meeting; and
  • having a board member share why he/she is committed to this work.

I believe that mission moments can be a great way to deepen commitment and provide insight. We’ve certainly had some success with this in my current organization and I hope to do more of it as our board grows.

Have you used mission moments with your board? Please share any experiences in the comments.

Who’s Minding Your Board Culture?

After two years on the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network National Board, one (of many) things that I have learned is the importance of paying consistent attention to a board’s culture.

A few ways that we have intentionally focused on our board culture are:

  • highlighting one specific element of our culture during each monthly meeting
  • making cultural fit a key element of our annual board recruitment efforts
  • creating opportunities for members to socialize outside of our formal in-person meetings

This calendar year, we have been setting aside a few minutes in each regular meeting to highlight one element of our culture that has contributed to our cohesion and long-term success. This simple act has helped reinforce what is important to our newest board members and ensure a smooth transition for them onto the board, while also reminding longer-tenured board members of their commitment.

Leading up to and during our annual board recruitment process, we are very clear about the importance of adding new members who will complement the board’s culture, while also bringing the expertise and perspectives that we need to advance YNPN’s mission.

However, I feel that the most important element of our culture has been the time spent together informally, which has allowed us to engage on a much more personal level and to act more effectively when working together as a board.

These elements of the YNPN National Board’s culture are the result of the thoughtful work of our Board Development Committee, which has primary responsibility for maintaining a productive culture, recruiting and onboarding new members, transitioning members off of the board, and much more.

Does your board have a Board Development or Governance Committee? If so, is it engaged in supporting a positive board culture? If not, how have you encouraged this among your board in other ways?

Join me this week for a webinar on nonprofit board service!

Are you interested in nonprofit board service? Or not sure if you have something to offer as a nonprofit board member? I’m co-hosting a webinar with the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) this Wednesday, April 23rd from 3-4 pm EST. Come learn about what board service is really like and how to get onto a board yourself!

If you leave a comment, reach out to me through the Contact form or tweet me, I’ll provide you with the discount code.

Hope that you can be with us this Wednesday!

3 Steps to Take if You Want to Join a Nonprofit Board

Cross-posted from Idealist Careers

Earlier this month, I shared some ways that serving on a non-profit board in the last year has helped my career.  I thought that it was only fitting to move onto some strategies for getting yourself onto a board.

First of all (and most importantly), get the idea out of your head that there is one route to join a nonprofit board of directors!  As I mentioned in my previous post, I was asked to join the national board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network after working as a pro-bono fundraising advisor to the National Director for more than six months and at no point during that time had I given any thought to the possibility of getting onto the board.

With all of that said, here are three steps that you can take today to get yourself onto a nonprofit board:

Identify your strengths and key skill sets

When most nonprofit boards are engaged in recruiting new members, they tend to do so with specific skills and/or perspectives that are needed.  By taking the time to identify your own strengths and skill sets, you can be ready to respond to organizations seeking someone like you.  One resource that I found helpful in this regard was the strengths profile that you can create at  I also think that a little self-awareness is helpful in getting a feel for the culture of a board and whether you would be a good fit.

Determine the type of organizations with which you want to be affiliated

After you have a solid grasp of your strengths and skill sets, you should give some serious thought to the types of organizations you want to support as a board member.  One key question that may help this process could be “What groups do you currently give money or volunteer for?”

Remember that as a board member, you have fiduciary (read: financial) and legal responsibility for the organization as one of its leaders. As I tell people who want to get into fundraising (which is also an important responsibility of board members), you should focus on organizations where you have a passion for the mission and work, as you will be expected to give your time, talent and treasure to this organization. This passion will be needed to keep you going through committee meetings, interviews for senior leaders, fundraising events and the many other things you’ll be doing as a board member.

Put yourself out there, then keep your eyes and ears open

Now that you know your strengths and the kinds of organizations you want to serve, it’s time to put yourself out there!  Here are a few ways to explore potential board opportunities.

  • Reach out directly. If there are specific organizations whose board you would be interested in joining, you should get introduced to or introduce yourself to the executive leadership or a board member and share your interest; who knows, you may be reaching out as they are looking to expand their board. If they aren’t try volunteering with the organization, outside of board capacity. Volunteering is a great way to learn more about the organization, get to know the staff, and be the first to know about potential opportunities.
  • Let your network know. Whether or not you have specific groups in mind, you should take some advice from former Silicon Valley CEO Heidi Roizen: ”Don’t believe you don’t have to work at it; you have to make it easy for people to connect the dots.”  After deciding that she wanted to pursue a seat on a corporate board, she sent 150 e-mails to people in her network — some who were on the boards of companies that funded her tech venture, other corporate executives, recruiters and friends — to share her interest.  While her experience is focusing on corporate boards, the key is to make it easy for people to find you and you start by letting people know you want a board position.
  • Be open to alternatives. If you aren’t ready for a formal board position or one just simply isn’t available, consider junior boards. And, as I stated earlier, it’s never too early or too late to get involved with an organization you care about. Offer to volunteer or take on pro-bono projects, as I did with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.

I hope that you find this approach helpful as you consider nonprofit board service!

Now That I’m A Board Member . . .

I am very proud to have been elected to the National Board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network a few months ago.  YNPN’s mission and specific focus on assuring the future of the non-profit sector resonates with me deeply.  The national organization is in such a key moment and I am excited to help shape how things will proceed.

Now that I am board member (with all of the responsibilities associated with that), I look forward to sharing my lessons and reflections along the way with you, my dear readers.  Additionally, I expect that this will allow me to see more clearly the perspective of board members when it comes to fundraising, which I hope will allow me to be more effective in my work going forward.

I already have one or two blog posts percolating on board issues, so keep your eyes peeled for those in the coming weeks!  Whether you are a board member, work with them or have no experience with board members at all, I also look forward to hearing your viewpoints and encouraging deeper dialogues in this area.

Quick Tip: A New Approach to Board Fundraising Expectations

While attending a session on Working with Your Board at last month’s Fundraising Day in New York, one of the speakers shared how her organization frames the fundraising expectations of its board: give, get or connect.

While most fundraisers are used to the give-or-get concept, but I found it interesting that value was placed on making meaningful connections.  I think that it is particularly important to acknowledge those connections that are made, whether in supporting program operations or identifying new donors, especially those made by board members who may not have as much money to give directly as some others.

How do you measure your board’s fundraising effectiveness?  Does your organization have a give or get policy?  If so, what is it?  And if not, why?

Seminar Recap: Engaging Your Board in the Major Gifts Program

As I noted in a recent post, I attended Fund Raising Day in New York, the largest one-day conference for fundraising professionals here in New York City, last month.

The other workshop that really caught my eye was entitled “Leading the Leaders — How to Motivate Your Board to Cultivate Major Gifts.”  Gregory Boroff, Vice President of Development at amfar, The Foundation for AIDS Research; Kerry Kruckel Gibbs, Vice President for Development and Communications at WNET-Thirteen; and Andy Robinson, an author and consultant served as panelists with Kevin Allan, Senior Managing Director at Changing Our World, moderating.  I have summarized below some of the major points that I gleaned from this talk.

Ms. Gibbs was very clear about the board of WNET-Thirteen’s responsibility to give and get.  She also advocated for the implementation of term limits for board members, as an opportunity to shift off those members who are not as effective, but also to  keep exposing new groups of prospects to your organization’s work.

Mr. Robinson made a great point (that also came up in last week’s Michael Chatman Giving Show) about how we (non-profit staff, but especially fundraisers) need to stop defining fundraising only as asking for a gift, as it should be regarded as an entire process of engagement.  He also made note what he called “The Incentive Plan,” where specific grants are solicited from longstanding supporters that will incentivize the behavior that you want out of your board members (e.g. a small to medium grant that will be awarded on the condition that the board attends fundraising training or a certain percentage of trustees come along on donor visits).  He found that this is a form of aversion therapy, as the board members will be more likely to be open to doing a specific activity after having a positive experience with it.

Mr. Boroff stressed the importance of annual meetings with trustees to set an agenda for the year and clearly express the organization’s fundraising expectations.  He also made a point to encourage fundraisers not to overlook the fact that trustees also need to be treated like donors by cultivating the relationship, sharing the impact the organization is having and engaging them in the work.

Ms. Gibbs shared a great story about identifying who would make a leadership gift for a capital campaign.  After talking with five trustees, she found that they all agreed that the same fellow trustee would be the ideal person to make this gift and motivate others to support the campaign.  Based upon their recommendations, Ms. Gibbs was able to approach that trustee with the angle that others were “counting on him” to make this gift.  After the trustee made a $15 million gift, they turned things around and had him make asks of the other trustees who had recommended him in the first place to make their gifts and follow his lead.

Mr. Robinson had another great idea about setting clear expectations for your board — let them know that you want your organization to be one of their top 3 charitable priorities during their tenure.  This supplement to the overall expectation that they give and get should also aid in the recruitment of serious and committed board members when they know what they are getting themselves into, in contrast to many organizations that only have unspoken expectations (which tend to frustrate staff members and leaders, though these unspoken expectations are not fair to the board members if there is a lack of clarity and candor).

At its simplest, Ms. Gibbs said that trustees are leaders (whether or not they realize it) and as such should be motivating others to support the organization and sharing why they are involved in this work.

I have taken some of these ideas to heart and hope to use some to more deeply engage board members in various aspects of I-House’s fundraising.  Of course, you can look forward to hearing more about these efforts in the coming months.

In my next post, I’ll share a few tips that I picked up from the panelists about working with your Executive Director/CEO on fundraising.

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A New Perspective on Board Recruitment and Retention

Yesterday on The Michael Chatman Giving Show, the guest was fundraising coach and non-profit communications strategist Lori Jacobwith.  I have followed Lori for most of the last year that I have been on Twitter, as she is a really smart non-profit professional.

Lori made a few particular points about non-profit board recruitment and retention which have stuck in my mind since yesterday’s show:

1.  Before joining a board, the prospect should ask for a job description and discuss the expectations of board members with the organization’s leadership.

I agree with Lori that this proactive approach would help prevent the way that most boards are measured by the easiest metric — how much money each person contributes.  By focusing on what skills are needed on the board and what is expected of them, there should not be any rude awakenings six months in when each trustee is asked for a five-figure gift (for example).

2.  Only 6% of non-profit organizations provide any training to their board members (whether on governance, fundraising, or any other skills that they are expected to use in their board roles).

I have been thinking about this one myself, with special focus on ways to transition my organization’s board into more active fundraising with individuals and institutions.  Without providing training for our trustees, it simply is not fair to expect them to show up with these skills.

3.  Non-profit organizations need to stop treating board members like ATMs and get back to engaging them in the work as key partners.

By engaging our board members (and all donors) as key partners in pursuing the organization’s mission, they will be more likely to give generously by feeling like they are invested in the work (and not like we only want them for their financial support).

To hear the full conversation between Lori and Michael, listen to the podcast here.  There is an amazing anecdote that Lori shares near the end of the show about how a non-profit leader cultivated a relationship with a prominent business leader by engaging him first as a mentor, instead of immediately trying to get him to join her organization’s board.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but will encourage you to listen in and take notes!

What does your organization do in regard to recruiting and retaining board members?

If you are not aware of it, The Michael Chatman Giving Show is a great resource to learn about the intersection of business and philanthropy.  The show is hosted by Michael Chatman, a Harvard-trained entrepreneur, founder of the Association of Maverick Philanthropists and an expert in the field of celebrity-charity partnerships.  You can catch the show’s live webcast every Thursday at 11:30 a.m. EST at 880thebiz or on Michael’s website.  You can also follow the chat each week by following me and the members of the “Philanthropy Mafia” on Twitter:
@IanMAdair @NickSava @FundraiserBeth @DomDJones @officialjos @michaelchatman

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Who Is Leading Your Next Event?

Former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN)

In a recent conversation with Former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (yes, I could not resist this name-dropping opportunity) at a recent NYU donor reception while talking about my work at I-House and my past work, he recalled that he had recently sent in a contribution to one of the settlement organizations here in the city.  He made a point of noting that friends of his were chairing this organization’s upcoming gala and that their involvement led him to make a contribution.  He also said that a good friend of his always told him to make these kinds of contributions, as he never knew when he would find himself leading an event and sending benefit committee letters out to everyone in his Rolodex (which can be particularly important for a politician like Congressman Ford — in the event that he jumps back into electoral politics now that he is getting settled in New York).

This was a very simple reminder of how important it is that the individuals lending their name to your special event should be dedicated to your cause and willing to reach out to their networks on your group’s behalf.  Thus far in my career, I have seen both extremes of special events — where leadership almost had to be begged to chair an event and those where supporters have been so committed to these events that they are known for taking part and playing a major role in the event’s success; as a fundraiser, I clearly prefer the latter approach, as it will not only make it easier to work with the leadership, but they will be more willing to get in and work with you to assure the event’s success.

So I ask — who is leading your next event?

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