Thursday, May 21, 2009

Working with your Board of Trustees

At the moment I should be preparing for tomorrow. Its our Annual General Meeting and a first time ever joint board meeting between the Foundation and the parent organization boards. Instead of reviewing my financial statements and staff reports I went for a little exercise with some girlfriends then we had a green tea and worried about our kids together.

Now I'm alert and writing this instead of reviewing materials for tomorrow. Why? Well it's their meeting isn't it? I'm just the hired hand. Reports are done. Recommendations made - tomorrow is about them. They will be just fine.

The relationship between a board and staff is complex, sometimes hard, often misunderstood. There have been a lot of great discussions and articles this month on this topic. Professional Fundraising in the UK was kind enough to publish an article of mine on the topic. Sean Triner has a good article in Australia that he just tweeted about.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy Had a very lively discussion on whether members should be donors.

I commented about it in the discussion and share my perspective with you below.

Completely agree with #14 Lori who says “because if you don’t think the mission is worthy of your money, why would anyone else?”

In fact we have now moved this out to staff. Those closest to the organization need to make a philanthropic commitment that tells the world “Our work is important and worthy of investment”.

To be considered a philanthropic gift it should come voluntarily without pressure, therefore the amount isn’t important. Stating an amount could prevent larger gifts or create a culture of “bought my way on, get to vote – what else to do you expect!”

The point about a diverse board with broad skill sets and networks is also key. $10 from someone who can find or raise $10 million or help in other areas is extremely valuable.

In order to create the philanthropic culture fundraising staff need to better support the board to help them understand what their gift means on a much deeper level than the budget.

It is the act of giving – not the amount that is important.

Yes absolutely all board members and staff should donate. Five dollars per month or $150K per year. All gifts should be recognized for the spirit in which they are given. Deep belief in the mission of the organization. Once this happens the culture that is created will speak for itself and other donors will want to be a part of you work.

There isn't an easy answer for working with a board. Each one is different and constantly changes depending on its members, your culture and your chair. There is a lot of great advice out there. Generally, I've found the techniques in the Influential Fundraiser very helpful and continue to study and practice them.

When the relationship between staff and board is working well - your organization can soar! Well worth the investment of time and effort.

Do you have a story about working with a board of trustees? We'd love to hear it. Your comments/thoughts are most welcome.

Thank you for spending time here.

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