Board members: Get cozy with the ‘f word’

   In his “The Last Word” column last month, the BBJ’s intrepid editor and publisher pretty much preempted my predictable year-end column about giving at this time of the year.
   To spare you from reading the same thing again, let me just underscore his eloquent plea for local businesses to act on their best intentions and create some kind of year-round formal program of giving that benefits both your business and your community.
   What I would like to do here is expand upon what John Thompson wrote when he used that most feared of words in nonprofit circles: fundraising.
   Most nonprofit board members have seen a classic pamphlet put out by BoardSource ( titled “Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards” (see inset, at right). The most important of those for the long-term well being of any nonprofit involves ensuring adequate resources for the organization to carry out its mission.
   Unfortunately, most board members are happy to do anything but help with the fundraising efforts. We develop quite impressive and creative rationalizations for why the worst thing for the organization would be to have us involved in this most important task.
   This collective energy could be much better spent on getting comfortable with the F-word and all it implies. Fundraising actually becomes highly rewarding once people see it for what it is: a chance to help people be their best selves when they are given a meaningful opportunity to strengthen their communities.
   The great management guru Peter Drucker turned to nonprofit management in his later years to bolster what he called the “social sector.”
   Drucker believed that this sector gives much-needed purpose to a community or a whole society that business — for all its other contributions — fails to provide. He believed that volunteering for nonprofits would provide a greater sense of community and common purpose than businesses can and should be expected to do.
   So if fundraising is such an important and rewarding activity, why is it the bane of nearly every nonprofit board? What is the problem here? Certainly part of it is our reluctance to ask people for money.
   We would never starve our children because we don’t like to work, yet we in effect deprive our nonprofits the resources they need by backing off on the fundraising duties.
   The money that could ultimately come to nonprofits through more active fundraising would be only part of the payoff, and maybe not even the most valuable component. Drucker would say it is the community connections that are built and sustained.
   This reluctance to raise money also comes in part from assuming – incorrectly – that we are asking people to do us a favor. When done properly and with sufficient advance cultivation of potential donors, fundraising is presenting people with opportunities to become their best selves as an active part of something that gives them great pleasure to support.
   In fact, we are doing them a favor. We are social people by nature, parts of larger communities that we need just as others need us. Part of the practical reason our laws require nonprofit boards to exercise oversight on behalf of us all is to broaden the resources and community connections of organizations far beyond whatever staff they can afford.
   The personal connections board members have in their communities are as much a community asset as much as they are a single organization’s asset.
   So, how do we get from “over my dead body” to active participation in fundraising?
   The answer is the same as for the old saw of how to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.
   With or without some outside help, all nonprofit boards should ensure that their own members are comfortable with fundraising by doing three things: 1) making sure that each member can easily make a brief case for the difference his or her organization is making, 2) practicing those conversations among board members and with close friends until they become natural, and 3) having regular feedback sessions once the fundraising begins so that all board members can share their experiences to improve future conversations.
   Even if all three of these things are observed, it is essential to have some clearly understood goals and objectives for the fundraising that are commonly arrived at and visited regularly by the entire board.
   There are no quick or easy fixes, but it is vital that fundraising becomes a planned group activity carried out by motivated individuals with specific responsibilities who will help one another.
   Effective fundraising is built upon a dual foundation of persistence and patience, so volunteer fundraisers should not expect quick results.
   Raising money involves a lot of careful listening, trust building and the development of long-term relationships, because it is a leap of faith for people to give significant resources to activities largely out of their control.
   The volunteer board member solicitor’s personal commitment to his or her nonprofit and personal relationships with potential donors make that leap of faith more likely than anything else. The collected personal relationships board members have are the most powerful philanthropic tool in Whatcom County.
   The cases these volunteers make must, of course, be backed up by sound business practices by the nonprofits they represent. Even the best practices are wasted if there is not a coordinated, well-supported effort by board members to let the community know of the impact their organization has.
   If there is one thing that could be done to improve how philanthropy is done in our community, it would be for all nonprofits to make a concerted effort to see that the most important work board members do — fundraising — is given the time and attention it deserves to make it a joyful duty commensurate with its key role.
   Not only will Peter Drucker smile down on you, but also your community will thank you in countless ways. Best of all, you will have a great sense of personal satisfaction from having made a difference.
   What greater gift could you have this holiday season?

Don Drake has spent twenty years working in executive roles in philanthropy. He served as president of Whatcom Community Foundation from 1997 until September 2005.

The 10 Basic responsibilities for nonprofit boards

1. Determine the organization’s mission and purpose. It is the board’s responsibility to create and review a statement of mission and purpose that articulates the organization’s goals, means, and primary constituents served.
2. Select the chief executive. Boards must reach consensus on the chief executive’s responsibilities and undertake a careful search to find the most qualified individual for the position.
3. Provide proper financial oversight. The board must assist in developing the annual budget and ensuring that proper financial controls are in place.
4. Ensure adequate resources. One of the board’s foremost responsibilities is to provide adequate resources for the organization to fulfill its mission.
5. Ensure legal and ethical integrity and maintain accountability. The board is ultimately responsible for ensuring adherence to legal standards and ethical norms.
6. Ensure effective organizational planning. Boards must actively participate in an overall planning process and assist in implementing and monitoring the plan’s goals.
7. Recruit and orient new board members and assess board performance. All boards have a responsibility to articulate prerequisites for candidates, orient new members, and periodically and comprehensively evaluate its own performance.
8. Enhance the organization’s public standing. The board should clearly articulate the organization’s mission, accomplishments, and goals to the public and garner support from the community.
9. Determine, monitor, and strengthen the organization’s programs and services. The board’s responsibility is to determine which programs are consistent with the organization’s mission and to monitor their effectiveness.
10. Support the chief executive and assess his or her performance. The board should ensure that the chief executive has the moral and professional support he or she needs to further the goals of the organization.

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