Board Recruitment: Are we looking for the right thing?

Sometimes I am pulled up short, reminded that the amount of time I spend thinking about philanthropy is not the amount of time that normal people spend thinking about giving…

Driving home from picking up Hanukkah candles for our dual-holiday family, I happened to catch an NPR story on year-end giving.  “Ooooo, goody!”, I thought, but then spent much of the rest of the interview shouting at the radio, as the host seemed insistent on uncovering people who were pulling back or diverting their giving to Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts.  “No, no!”, I yelled to the dashboard of the Prius, “People give ADDITIVELY when this happens!  They give MORE, not less!”  Of course, in my rational mind, I know that each person is different:  some are finding that they have much less to give, and some are using social services for the first time because of the storm, others will have to re-direct their giving, but many of us do give more when extraordinary circumstances call.  (Despite my rantings, the interview really is worth a listen.)

I was reminded of a profound observation made by the Philanthropist of the Year recipient at one of the AFP National Philanthropy Day luncheons I attended this year:  “Giving is a celebration of abundance, not of scarcity.”  This wonderful man gives and gives and gives because he experiences as a way he can honor the abundance in his life, not as something that creates scarcity in his life.

Right on.  But rare to find.  (And now we circle around to board recruitment…)

We, at The Osborne Group, love working with our clients on building a culture of philanthropy (here’s a tool on that topic!) and having a strong, strategically composed board is one critical part of that culture. (Here’s a podcast on that.)  As you think about new board members, you know you need people who:

  • are dedicated to your mission and our organization,
  • who make you a top priority for their giving
  • are wise, strategic, ethical
  • meet key criteria and bring needed skills

But how much are you listening for and seeking out those who feel about their own philanthropy the way this man (and, to be fair, his incredible wife) feel about giving.  Is thoughtful GENEROSITY on your board recruitment radar screen?

The Bank of America/ Indiana University Center on Philanthropy just came out with the 2012 study of high-net worth giving – one of my favorite studies of the year! – and one line caught my eye:  “Just 5 percent of high net worth donors reported having a mission statement for their charitable activity.”  I would bet that if the question were asked a little differently, more would see themselves as having a overall approach and belief system for their giving… and those are the people we’re look for, to join our boards:  those who not only think strategically about how to make our organization stronger, but how their own generosity – with time and with resources – can be used strategically to accomplish those goals.  The deepest level of engagement – ownership – comes when we find those people and put them to work for us.

I don’t usually promote “unicorn hunting”.  But that seems like a unicorn worth finding… and I’m not convinced that these people are as rare as that radio interviewer would have us believe…