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Get Your Board On-board

Marketers recommend that we select three words to describe ourselves. If you had to choose words to describe your board’s attitude about fundraising, what three would you choose? For most boards, I’d pick: “eager,” “confused,” and “anxious.”

In a Nutshell

Getting your board on-board will help you to resolve two of your greatest challenges: obtaining adequate income and creating a strong board of directors. While ultimately each board member chooses to get on-board or not, you can create opportunities for your board to move from eager, confused and anxious to energized, focused, and confident.

For several years, this column has focused on remarkable ideas that nonprofits use to increase income. This month, I take a slightly different turn. We’ll look at overlooked everyday ideas that ingenious nonprofits use to increase their income. We start with your board. What ideas are often overlooked? By educating them, you can focus their energy to help you to obtain revenue. In short, ingenious nonprofits empower their board’s move towards “energized,” “focused,” and “confident.”

Leaders lead. You ask board members to lead. You charge them, among other things, to help you develop strategies to e nsure the availability of sufficient resources. “A board has a legal duty of ‘due care’ that involves ensuring that there are enough resources for the organization now, and in the future,” advises the Center for Nonprofit Risk Management. Board members are charged with developing successful strategies to create adequate resources. (Note: This doesn’t mean that they must fundraise. It means that they must find ways to obtain resources. Fundraising happens to be a strategy that works for nearly all nonprofits.) Empowering your board to lead your organization means that they and the organization move to their full potential.

You need the money. For eight of the last ten years, nonprofits as a sector ended the year in the red. You need the energy and labor of an active, helpful, and focused board so you end the year in the black.

Energy goes somewhere. Think of bees. If nothing disturbs them, they will work tirelessly to make honey. They focus their energy on productive work. When disturbed they swarm to attack and little honey gets made.Without a solid understanding of how nonprofits earn money, boards swarm in confusion eagerly “trying” to make effective, helpful strategy decisions. Confusion doesn’t create income. Confusion creates plodding. When frustrated, boards of directors may “sting” people, pursue illogical, inefficient, and ineffective schemes. While they give the appearance of productivity, they achieve little. If this continues, member loose hope, their energy abates. Many “go through the motions” until their terms expire. In all likelihood, you’re blessed with abundant board energy, to create a lot of honey: Focus it.

What Does an On-board Board Look Like?

How will you recognize such a board when you see it? These groups reflect energy, focus, and confidence. They engage in a long-term process that includes dramatic leaps forward, bumps, and setbacks. The key indicator everyone seeks, of course, relates to meeting behaviors. On-board meetings include active, productive conversations about income opportunities and linking opportunities to each other.

Instead of income ideas popping like kernels of corn, opportunities are thoughtfully considered, against criteria, such as:

  • Resource costs, including labor and money
  • The likelihood of success
  • The options fit with the agency’s overall revenue strategies.

On-board boards understand they have multiple revenue options. They recognize that they have a number of roles they might play to support revenue generation. Productive conversations rule the day. It’s the difference between focusing intersections versus constructing a super highway to major income opportunities.

How Can You Get Your Board On-board?

Get on-board yourself. No matter your role, staff member, board member or volunteer, consider how you’ll manage the board. For some “managing a board” or proactive leading directors, will be a new and, perhaps, scary concept. When my college roommate’s son was giving her grief, she told him. “You’ve learned all sorts of things in college about managing people, use what you’re learning to manage me.” Decide to help your board move beyond eager, confused, and anxious. The behavior they take in response to your guidance is, of course, each member’s individual’s choice. Offer them the opportunity to succeed “beyond expectations.”

Know what you know. No matter how superlative their backgrounds, your board members are not nonprofit experts or experts about your nonprofit—you are. Know what you know. Share it.

Expect confusion and misinformation. Can your board name the three biggest nonprofit revenue streams? How about for your organization? If your board is like most of the directors I’ve worked with, most likely not. Tons of misinformation exists.

Confusion exists not only about the different income streams nonprofits can tap but also and the size (and importance) of each stream. When it comes to how nonprofits obtain donated income, bedlam rules. Most conversations between staff and boards about it resemble a modern day tower of Babel rather than real dialog.

Use their energy to educate. As a leader inside your nonprofit, you have a perfect opportunity to educate your directors, since they start eager and anxious. They need to learn the good and the bad news. The good news: It’s a lot less scary than you imagined. The bad: It’s more ongoing work than expected. Use the following topics in your “course:”

  • Nonprofit revenue streams, sector-wide
  • Revenue streams for your group, current and desired
  • Donated Income: Why people give
  • Why people give to us
  • Gifts we should never accept
  • Why we need to be in the bequest business
  • Earned Revenue: Are we maximizing it?
  • Effective board member actions
  • The best ways to leverage our impact.

Energized, Focused, and Confident

Getting your board on-board will help you to resolve two of your greatest challenges: obtaining adequate income and creating a strong board of directors. While ultimately each board member chooses to get on-board or not, you can create opportunities for your board to move from eager, confused and anxious to energized, focused, and confident.

Karen Eber Davis, MBA

About the Contributor: Karen Eber Davis, MBA

Karen Eber Davis is a leading authority on income growth strategies for nonprofits. She helps leaders generate the ideas, resources, and money they need to fulfill their goals and create extraordinary impact.

For over twenty years, Karen has advised nonprofit organizations such as The Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, The American Red Cross, Ringling College of Art and Design, Meals on Wheels PLUS, and many others.Karen is

7 Nonprofit Income Streams, by Karen Eber DavisKaren is author of the popular 7 Nonprofit Income Streams: Open the Floodgates to Sustainability! (CharityChannel Press, 2014) and is a contributing author to YOU and Your Nonprofit Board: Advice and Practical Tips from the Field’s Top Practitioners, Researchers, and Provocateurs (CharityChannel Press, 2013). She has published over two hundred articles in a variety of publications, including Advancing Philanthropy, CharityChannel Press, Nonprofit World, and The Nonprofit Times. Her monthly newsletter, Added Value, and column, “The Ingenious Nonprofit,” inspire leaders to find ways to realize more funding and more supporters to accomplish their mission.

Karen graduated magna cum laude from the University of Connecticut and earned her MBA in finance from the University of South Florida.

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3 Responses to Get Your Board On-board

  1. Nick Walters
    Nick Walters February 5, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

    It never ceases to amaze me how many non profits I come across that have neglected this topic. I’m glad I found this resource and will most defiantly be sharing it.

  2. Karen Eber Davis February 11, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    Thanks Nick. What do most nonprofits do instead? Ignore it–hope it will go away… take little stabs at it? What have you done in this area. I’d love your thoughts, Karen

  3. Jo Meyer July 19, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

    Do you have any suggestions on how to develop an “on-board” board? I have removed, replaced and added several member over the last few years. None seem to have the drive I have, and am looking for in others who claim to share my passion

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