Buzz words are defined as jargon, at a particular time in a particular industry, that is fashionable to describe an industry focus. In the world of fundraising, the buzz words of the day are ENGAGEMENT and STEWARDSHIP. These words are often paired with either Donor or Board.
In this article, we focus on Board Engagement. The roles of Boards are ever changing. Whether they are changing from fiduciary to advisory, or just gaining new members, Board management and engagement can be a full time job in itself. Here are some best practices that make Board engagement more manageable.
Interview/ Re-interview your members – When you first start as a leader in your organization or invite a person to your board, you talk to them extensively and hopefully inquire about their desire to participate in the organization. At least every other year (if not annually), you should repeat this process. Find out what program or part of your mission keeps them engaged. Invite them to evaluate and criticize your performance. Often what they evaluate and criticize about you will provide insight into their interest, thus providing opportunity for you. In addition, you may find some members who do not have the same passion as when they first joined. In that case, you have another opportunity to either re-engage or bless and release them.
Partner Staff & Board – Especially when you have a large board, you could use some help engaging and stewarding members. Partner the staff with board members. Match strengths and challenges amongst board and staff. If you have a staff member who shrinks when it comes to fundraising, use a board member that is a champion fundraiser to help that staff member see how what they do contributes to fundraising. You can do the same with development staff and “weak” board members. Remind staff members to keep you informed of communication with board members so you are never blind-sided.
Train them – You would not send a staff member out un-prepared, why would you expect your board to raise money when they are just as un-prepared. Make sure you have a solid board orientation that matches your expectations. Most new employee orientations involve required reading, policy acknowledgements, training on products and services, tours of the facility, etc. In many ways, your board is an extension of the staff. If fundraising is a prominent role of your Board, make sure it is regularly prominent in your meeting, not just something you get to when you have time at the end of the meeting. Draw the lines for your board members by discussing specific donations: “Thanks to a $500 gift from Mrs. Doe, 5 more children ….”
Provide Tools – If your Board meets once a quarter or once a month, give them information on a scheduled and regular basis between meetings. Thanks to technology, it is easier than ever to accomplish this. Send an email every other week that allows them to stay informed and asks them to share exciting news about the organization, whether it is events or impact stories. But the key is to make sure it is a scheduled communication. If possible, limit communication to these scheduled updates to add importance to this communication, versus providing random bits of information. This will also allow your regular meetings to be more productive.
Be specific – Board agreements are extremely valuable. In these agreements, list specific expectations and consequences if these expectations cannot be met. Be clear how their role plays into the mission and strategic plan. More than specific dollar amounts like, “Board members are expected to give $1000 and raise $10,000” provide the means to achieve that like: Board members are expected to provide 2 introductions a month to potential supporters; or Board members should host at least one meet and greet annually like our ‘Touching Lives Tour’. Then conclude with the request for specific dollar amount.
Dan Jenuwine, CFRE, put it well when he explained that most board members have three (3) primary fears when it comes to fundraising. Through the use of these best practices, you make it about the 85% that is done before money is asked for and hopefully sooth these fears, which are: 1) Reciprocity from the people they ask; 2) Being always seen as the beggar; 3) Being seen as incompetent about the organization and its mission.