"Raising" Your Board
For fundraisers, “raising” an organization's board of directors can be just as difficult and as important as raising a dollar.
Many fundraisers make strides every day in turning their boards from grassroots groups of committed people to professional business boards in the hopes of making their organizations better. But this is no simple task. It can be a difficult transition for the board, but it’s a great opportunity for the organization to groom a dedicated group of volunteers. Here are some steps you can take to do just that. Some of the examples are drawn from my own experience with the Church Street School for Music and Art, so the details are education-related, but the root of the advice is applicable across missions.
Walk the walk of your organization
Many of your board members probably know someone on another board. They see how their friends act as board members and are unsure if they can do the same. As a board evolves, it will have a mixture of people with wisdom, work, wealth or a combination of the three. All of your board members will know that they are expected to help fund the school, for example, but board members that your institution is born with are very different from board members that you recruit.
It’s important to honor the time that your board members have served at your institution and continuously thank them for it. It might seem like common sense, but every time a board member gives you $500 for your capital campaign, thank her for both the check and the 15 years she might have spent teaching 5-year-olds to finger paint. People like her are the reason your institution has a fantastic reputation and is ready to grow.
Go from grassroots in the community to a community organization with roots
Since your board members might have come from staff or other groups associated with your organization, or been frends of the director for many years, they have seen your institution grow from servicing a few dozen people to what it is today. They might not have noticed that your budget is sizeable now or that your institution is responsible for the employment of several dozen people or more. In short, they might not have realized that your institution has grown considerably from its humble origins.
An important part of a business is planning for the future, and the easiest way for you to show your board that you are a business is to create documents that teach your board how “a business” works and still maintain the voice and spirit that your board established when your institution was just an idea.
Five-year business plans, SWOT charts, long-range calendars and segmented marketing campaigns are all extensions of the processes that they have been doing for years. Be mindful that these might be new documents for them, and present them in a way that is easiest for them to absorb and understand. In an art and music school, for example, I engage the artists through graphs and the musicians by going over the material verbally.
After seeing how next month’s fundraiser can affect the outreach program that currently is in the planning stages, it’s easier for board members to understand that they are governing a business that will serve its community long after your current staff and board have cycled out.
Talking the talk of a community business
Many of your board members might not have ever been concerned with the finances of your institution; they might have been more concerned with what color feathers are used in an art project than whether or not the annual gala should be moved up two weeks to cover payroll. It’s important to keep your board in the habit of talking to their lead fundraiser.
Communication between the development office and the board is vital for them to understand how you, and the rest of the world, works and thinks. Furthermore, your board might have only given a certain amount of time in their schedule for their board duties. You have to gradually let them know that they will be expected to spend more time with you.
Most likely, your board members will default to the “golden rule” and put in as much effort as board members as you put into them. Take time each week to give them updates, remind them to send those appeal letters to their friends, and let them lead the process of reaching out to their networks. The more involvement they have in the business, the more respect they will have for your process.
While it might be stressful and there will be growing pains, when all is said and done, your board will be strong, understand your institution as a whole, and be willing to do its part to get your organization where it needs to be.
Nicolas Gaudreau is the director of development for Church Street School for Music and Art in New York City.