Is It Time To Abolish the Board Fundraising Committee?
A colleague recently asked: How can you make the most of your board's development committee meeting?
Here’s my completely unconventional answer to that question.
After years of serving as a Development Director and as a fundraising consultant, in my humble opinion the best way to make use of a Board Fund Development Committee's time is to eliminate the committee completely.
The development committees of too many nonprofit boards are often ineffective because they are neither here (a policy group of the board) nor there (an action group of the staff). They aren't effective at creating policy, and they aren't any good at raising money either.
One of the problems with the traditional model is that it confuses the policy-making role of the Board with the role of individual board members as leadership volunteers. To help solve this problem, separate your functions: create a Board policy-making committee that reports to the full Board, and create as-needed fundraising committees which include Board members, but report to staff.
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS MAKES FUNDRAISING POLICY
First, create a Board task force whose sole purpose is to focus on policy-making around fundraising (which is the Board's role after all). Call it the Revenue Planning Group or something similar. This might be a standing committee or it might be a temporary work group, charged with developing long-range revenue strategies for your organization within the framework of other board-approved priorities. Task this group with the job of bringing to the Board for discussion and approval a long-range revenue strategy that will support your organization’s program and operations over the next five to ten years (or more).
This group should follow a good strategic marketing process that scans the environment, talks about future funding trends, posits possible future scenarios, explores the changing role of revenue generation in the nonprofit sector, and assesses current organizational capacity. It would stay focused at the highest policy levels and answer critical organization questions such as:
- What is the right balance of restricted vs. unrestricted income?
- Should you build an endowment and if so, how quickly?
- How will your organization stay competitive and relevant to funders?
- How dependent should you be on any single source of funding?
- How much risk are you willing to accept?
- How much growth would investment in different revenue strategies produce?
- What is the role of membership in your revenue generating strategy?
- What role does fee-for-service income play in your organization?
- What kind of investment is necessary to achieve these objectives? Over what timeline?
- What is the obligation of the Board in revenue generation?
- How will the Board effectively monitor fundraising success?
While the Chief Development Officer and other development staff would be an important part of this team, the ultimate responsibility for approving this top-level direction would be that of the Board.
This is very different from what has evolved as a Development Committee. As you can see, this task force is not responsible for raising any money themselves.
The group disbands when its work is done. It is reconvened at an appropriate interval (given the nature of your industry) to assess the appropriateness of the current revenue strategy given changes in the environment, changes in your organization, and changes in future needs.
BOARD MEMBERS, ACTING AS VOLUNTEERS, RAISE MONEY
If your Development Officer needs board members to serve as leadership volunteers for fundraising (and I never assume that is a given), then he/she should invite the appropriate board members to participate on specific fundraising teams that are staff-led, not Board-led. For example, you might have a team/committee for major gifts, another for a particular special event, and another serving as an advisory group for public relations or advertising.
Volunteers are only recruited if it is clear that their involvement will lead to better fundraising results. Some of these teams will find it helpful to meet. Other teams might involve the volunteer working one-on-one with a staff member.
Each volunteer (whether a board member or not) is recruited for his/her skills and competencies to accomplish the task. Every person on the team fully understands their fundraising objectives (i.e. how much money they need to raise) and each person has a specific job to do, the sum of which will allow the team to reach their fundraising goal. Everyone on the team knows the limits they have on raising that money (budgets, inkind needs, etc).
In this approach, there is no ambiguity about the leadership volunteer's role. Their job is to raise money along the plan outlined by the Development Staff and in alignment with the strategic direction approved by the Board. Volunteers give advice or critique activities only in the way that any person who is part of a successful team would do as part of a process of improving outcomes while still fulfilling his or her obligations to produce the results. They are not there to supervise or direct staff work.
These action-oriented groups (teams, subcommittees, whatever you’d like to call them) are assembled and disbanded to suit a particular fundraising need identified by staff. They own their results and evaluate themselves as individuals and as a team. They are accountable and responsible. And if they aren't, then the Development Director doesn't invite them back the next time.
We are much more effective as an organization, and create more effective and satisfying Board work, when we are clear about our desired outcomes, recruit the right people for the right job, and clarify tasks. We become inefficient and ineffective when roles are unclear, tasks are ambiguous, outcomes are undefined, consequences are lacking, and the wrong people are recruited for the job. Why be locked into dysfunctional structures for tradition’s sake, when we can and should create new, flexible models that can rapidly adapt to changing needs in a changing environment.
Carver, J. Boards that make a difference.