Let’s Address the Elephant in the RoomFebruary 28, 2022
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The Truth will set you free, but first…
Where did the first quarter of the year go?!
For many of my clients, the end of March means it’s budget season and folks are in the thick of fundraising projections and planning for the next fiscal year. For me, it means lots of inquiries about Board training and Retreat facilitation….which I love!
Though the conversations I have with prospective clients are unique (and confidential!), I’ve been at this long enough to be pretty good at trend spotting, and I want to share my thoughts on two themes that concern me right now when it comes to our nonprofit Boards. I would typically save the following reflections for closed door client conversations but I’m offering them here, for the collective, in case your organization is experiencing the same challenges.
Tough truth #1: That all white Board of Directors you serve on, report to, or staff can’t solve their own diversity problem.
I’ve been having a lot of conversations with Board members and executives about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policy creation, as part of the strategic planning process. Policies are important, but without intentional action they are performative, hollow promises to do better…nothing more. In addition to DEI education for your staff and volunteer leadership and organizational policy creation, I offer these action items:
- Your staff (beyond the executive director, CEO) knows the community you serve well, invite them into the Board recruitment process, their suggestions will likely bring diversity of culture, thought and experience to your mission. IRL example: When I was on staff, I kept a running list of amazing community leaders, their connections to the agency I worked for and links to their accolades in the media. On more than one occasion, I was able to make meaningful recommendations to Board members when statements like “we need more diversity but I don’t know anyone…” would stifle recruitment conversations.
- If your Board is struggling with DEI perhaps it’s time to gather some data that will help drive decision making. Stakeholder interviews can be incredibly powerful. Stakeholders may include your Board members, hands-on volunteers, staff, vendors, individual donors, Grantmakers, members, patrons (particularly for Arts organizations) and, dare we not forget, the beneficiaries of our mission focused services and programs. Give the community room to be heard, I promise it will pay off.
- By now, DEI training for your Board and staff should be a line item in your budget. There is so much unlearning to do, and education to receive. DEI training and consultation is no longer a “nice to have” but a requirement for every organization, particularly those claiming to address social inequities (AKA the nonprofit sector).
Tough truth #2: Those good humans who refuse to take part in fundraising don’t belong on your Board of Directors.
Fundraising takes many forms and there can be a meaningful role for everyone, regardless of personal wealth, professional titles or experience and comfort with public speaking. The reality is that nonprofit organizations are businesses that require resources to run effectively, and Board members are LEGALLY responsible for the financial health of the organization. If you have Board members who refuse to take part in resource development, I strongly suggest you try the following tips to overcome their apprehension (or if all else fails, find a different volunteer role for them):
- Get really clear about expectations…in writing. Board members should receive a job description to consider before they are voted onto your Board of Directors, and that description should include responsibilities around fundraising. If we want true diversity and great representation, we shouldn’t expect every Board member to write a personal check. However, recruiting for volunteer leaders who are interested in acting as ambassadors for the organization, networking and attending solicitation meetings alongside development staff is very important. IRL example: I worked with a youth development center that recruited an alumnus of their programs to their Board of Directors recently, without expectation that they would, or could at this point in their career, make a personal donation. But, he was willing to share his lived experience and played an incredibly important, dignified role in meetings with major funders. The result? More than $500,000 in new donations in his first few months on the Board.
- Just because Board members bring expertise to your organization, doesn’t make them experts at nonprofit fundraising. Staff must be prepared to give Board members guidance, tools, and partnership. The most successful fundraisers I know approach their Board members as teammates, and understand that time invested in building trusting relationships with them is priceless.
- New skill development requires training and practice. Whether it’s ballroom dancing, public speaking, playing the guitar or fundraising, new skills are mastered through interest, passion and time. If your organization doesn’t have the right mix of in-house talent for Board training, consider investing in external expertise and support (like a consultant or coach…yes, that’s a shameless plug).
As always, I offer these thoughts and recommendations in hopes that they bring value to you, your organization and the mission-focused work you do. We are in this together and I am rooting for your success! If this month’s blog post sparked reflection or action, I would love to hear about it. In fact, If you’ve read this far and have reflections of your own to share, let’s talk about a guest blog in the near future.