Type “board roles” into your favorite search engine and you will come up with a wealth of topics and purveyors of The Answer. Still the question persists: “But WHAT should my board be DOING?” With so much information already out there, why is there such confusion, hand-wringing, frustration on the part of the staff team – executive and development – and on the part of the board about what a high-performing board should be doing to support the fund development efforts of the organization or institution? I don’t want to devolve into a marketing pitch here, but we strive to deliver practical solutions here – and I think the problem with many of these resources is that they are not answering the practical question being asked… and maybe we’re not always clear on what we’re asking about board roles.
Here is what the answer is NOT: the answer is not about whether you have a “hands on” or “rubber stamp” board, whether this board is a working board or a governing board. In reality, all boards should be hands-on sometimes – and occasionally rubber-stamp a wise strategy. Governing is hard work – so I have never understood that distinction. The answer doesn’t come from a pretty flow chart (…and anyone who knows me knows that I love a good flow chart – though a less popular approach when making a point with my spouse. Different post. Different day.)
The answer is found in discerning what we’re really asking about: are you looking to understand and agree on the board’s fund development roles or their fund development jobs?
Fund Development jobs are relatively simple – and we should keep them that way. This is not to say they don’t need support and training, but there are just five JOBS we need board members to fulfill, each in different measure, and according to their skills and abilities:
When board members support the fund development program by doing those five jobs, we’re in good shape. No matter what size your staff is now, you’ve got “force multiplication” and the potential for peer-to-peer outreach, even if most of the solicitation is done (or supported) by staff members. It takes training to make sure board members have the skills and abilities to those jobs well. (Go here for an easy-to-adapt tool on engaging your board in stewardship. And go here for a past webinar on engaging your board in fund development.)
It is true that you can focus on those jobs and still not get anywhere in your fund development program… It causes the plaintive cry where I started this post. In my experience, that cri de coeur often comes from the fact that board members didn’t first embrace the ROLES that enable the jobs to get done well.
We need to allocate the right people to the right specific jobs once we have them. First we must recruit for these roles, and not be shy about stating explicitly what role every board member must play in fund development. Lucky for us, there are only three really important roles for you to share with your board:
1) Give generously and be willing to talk passionately and convincingly about why you invest. To be a good “fund developer” and carry out those five jobs, every board member must identify with those they are reaching out to, know what a good donor looks like, be proud and vocal about their support of this organization.
2) Assess the risk of your fundraising approach, creating balance and mitigating risk. Every board member – whether you are trained in fund development or not – should be able to recognize that holding ONE fundraising event on which all or a significant percentage of the year’s revenue rides is RISKY. That’s really, really risky. So, do not do it. Same goes for relying on one donor, or one source of giving. Something happens to one donor or one sector and…. pppphhhft. Equally, every board member should be able to recognize that doing 17 events or campaigns is probably not a good use of resources and splits attention in too many directions. And, with a little education, most board members can embrace the wisdom of focusing on building a robust pool of leadership donors who provide significant investment each year.
3) Be available, demand that your availability is used well. Agreeing to take on those five roles – or some of those five roles – but then neeeeeeever quite getting around to doing what you are asked shirks this role. Promise what you will deliver. Then, you can and should demand (Staff: talking to you now…) that your time be used well, on the right jobs with the right donors and that everyone measures the effectiveness of what they’re doing, not to punish anyone, but to see what works best and do more of that.
What should a high-performing board being doing? Embracing three roles that lead the way to five effective jobs. Practical? I think so.