3 signs your board may be doing more harm than good

Boards — love ’em or hate ‘em, chances are they’re a fact of your fundraising life.

A great board can play a crucial role in making strategic decisions that appropriately support your work, boldly leading your organization to reach exciting new heights in fundraising.

No board member sets out to purposely undermine your

work — but sometimes, even the most committed boards can unintentionally do damage by focusing on the wrong things when they set their sights on fundraising.

Here are the signs your board may be doing more harm than good — plus a few tried and true ways you can work with your board to productively redirect their energies.

They believe in the overhead myth

Nothing has done more long-term damage to our organizations than buying into the overhead myth.

We perpetuate that cycle ourselves every time we publish one of those pie charts that proudly points out our under-investment in crucial fundraising and administrative functions — as if it’s a good thing!

Sure, transparency is important to donors — but be aware of ways you and your board may be unintentionally feeding the nonprofit starvation cycle, and keeping your organization stuck in a vicious cycle that threatens your ability to raise the resources you need to succeed.

If you’ve not yet read UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, it’s a report that I highly recommend to all fundraisers, leadership teams, and boards — it can be a great starting point to get your board talking about investment in fundraising, and the importance of building a healthy culture of philanthropy.

They ignore or override fundraising expertise

Beware the board member who thinks they know better than a seasoned fundraising practitioner.

This can take many forms — from the bizsplainer, to the armchair expert who thinks your path to fundraising glory will be paved by bitcoin, chances are at some point a board member who thinks they know better is going to try and override your fundraising expertise.

A potent remedy for this malady can be the generous application of fundraising facts — and case studies can be great too.

Try to make a strong business case to get them focused on what really matters — for example, show them the numbers that support an investment in donor retention, or help them understand the lifetime value of a donor’s contributions when you’re looking at the ROI of donor acquisition costs.

They get inappropriately involved in fundraising

Is the board getting involved in the operational details of your fundraising? I think we’ve all worked with that one board member who spends a little too much time worrying about the colour of the table centrepieces for your upcoming gala.

This behaviour can run the gamut from relatively harmless (fussing about floral arrangements) to downright damaging (the rewriting of your fundraising appeal copy by the unqualified).

But how do you manage the overinvolved board member and tackle the other tricky situations outlined above?

Often, one of my first recommendations is to try and find a champion on the board. Is there a potential ally you can partner with to help manage some of these issues in real time as they crop up at the board table?

It may be easier for some board members to hear feedback from a peer, and it always helps when important key messages about fundraising are repeated regularly from different sources.

Additionally, you can think about bringing in some external expertise to help you get everyone pointed in the right direction.

As the late Mo Davies, a beloved mentor of mine, used to say: an expert carries a briefcase and comes from more than ten miles away. Meaning, you may well have a ton of internal fundraising expertise on your team, but sometimes it’s just easier for your leadership team to hear the same message from someone outside your organization.

Finally, if you’ve never sat on a board yourself, I strongly recommend it as a great opportunity to develop your skills and build your firsthand knowledge of good governance practices.

I believe every fundraiser should have the personal experience of sitting on a board — not least because it can help increase your empathy for your board. Governance is not as easy as it looks!

I’ve been a board member for as long as I’ve been a

fundraiser — and over time, I’ve found myself making some of the very mistakes I describe above.

So, take heart when you’re dealing with a board member you perceive to be difficult — the majority of the time, all of us are just trying to do our best to make the world a better place.

Are you struggling to find solutions to some sticky situations like these? Let’s chat! I offer a free one-on-one coaching call to all my readers, and you can book your complimentary session using my on-line calendar. I look forward to talking to you soon!

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