The founder. What does that mean to be a founder of an organization? And, how does that impact the relationship with your Board of Directors?
Organizations have natural life cycles and founders play a unique role in the organization that the found. There is growth and with growth comes pains.
For founders, what was once solely their creation, becomes something much bigger and larger. And, then the organization grows up and beyond and
needs structure and staffing. The founder must give up something that was very personal to a bigger entity, a bigger dream. Founders hire their first staff; they organize their first Boards, and then they even go on to leave the organization that they founded.
But, through this process, the founder must struggle with their identity and vice versa. How much power and autonomy does the Board have with a founder who remains at the helm? How much power and authority does a founder have to a new found Governance Board who now supervises this very person who founded the organization? Can the Board make as many decisions as another Board with a non-founder CEO? When does this dichotomy change? And, how does it change? At what point?
As the Board begins to professionalize and develop, the Founder plays a key role in ensuring this transition and establishing a Board that will live well beyond them. This reality must be hard for founders as they grapple with creating an organization living beyond their control of it. What was once their dream becomes something much more. While awe-inspiring, on one hand, it can also be frightening on another. And, they are now charged with putting in the structures and supports that will ensure that this continues well beyond them, a founder faces their mortality and lack of power on the other. These same structures and supports i.e. Governance structures, professional staff, start to cause a separation in the identity of the founder. The organization is changing in a way that separates and institutionalizes their role.
Is Governing the same in a nonprofit organization that is led by a founder as it is by a non-founder? I say the structures and functions are the same, but the relationship is not. This relationship needs time to “catch up” and transition. The dynamics need to develop. Decision-making is not as black and white. The founder still has much invested in the direction of their organization, and only through time will this separation happen. I wouldn’t advocate that a nonprofit Board takes a hard stance and decide that it is the “Boss” of the founder. Nor would I advocate that the founder has free reign without the Board. I wouldn’t advocate that the Board sit back and let the founder make all the decisions or nor would I advocate that the Board make all the decisions. There is much more of a fine line when it comes to Board Governing in a founder-led organization. The Governance model provides structure, and then the organization is charged with strategically dealing with the “Elephant in the Room” regarding Governing with a founder at the helm or not? Parameters need to be developed that outline what this unique relationship will look like and what is considered acceptable or not acceptable not just today, but as the organization continues to move forward into the future and the tension of Governance and management continues to evolve and change and go beyond the founder.
The organization must move towards professionalizing if it is going to continue beyond its founder. And, in doing so, the growing pains that a founder and a Board go through are unlike any other. But, as the Board continues to become more sophisticated in its functioning and as the organization begins to professionalize and hire staff, the founder must continually define his or her new role with increasingly less control and a willingness to divest themselves of ownership. Likewise, the Board needs to navigate gingerly this transference of organizational equity to begin to take more control, ensure the overall effectiveness of the organization, continue the mission, and plan for succession of the founder and the resulting organizational shifts. How an organization manages this change, happens over time.
But, all – both the Board and the founder, must be aware that unlike other organizations, they do face unique challenges and opportunities, and must ease each other into their new roles and organizational structures while honoring the past and preparing for the future. This change in roles is a Governance question that if left unaddressed can cause great consternation and organizational dysfunction. It is better to deal with the “Elephant” than to have it trample all over you.
Change management is hard work, but so is dealing with the aftermath of an organization that failed to identify its complexities and address them as they navigate the sea of change. Lifeboats only help when the ship is sinking. A rudder helps to steer the ship, and a compass guides it while in sail.
Interestingly enough, a group that I am currently working with is in the process of conducting an outside needs assessment. I think this is such a wise move.
Over the years, I have led strategic planning and board development for quite some time. For those groups who have engaged me in the past for strategic planning, I strongly advocate that we take the time to do a full stakeholder assessment component through a comprehensive market research plan. Many groups, move ahead without me and without doing that needs assessment.
Well, one of the primary objectives of strategic planning is to determine if an organization is still relevant to the community that it serves. And, if the community has changed, how will they choose to respond to the findings, if at all.
The pure fact of the matters is that we are here to serve our stakeholders. We have a mission to serve a community to meet a need. Do we ever stop and assess how well we have met that need? Or have we ever stopped to assess to determine if that need still exists? Or if it exists, is it still in the same form and shape?
Demographics and populations change quite naturally as society does. Technology, societal views, cultural shifts may impact a demographic and their life choices, etc.
Do we as organizations make the assumption that the demographic and social ill that we were founded to alleviate, in some cases twenty years or more is still the same?
Are we making decisions based on old paradigms or trends or social problems?
How do we ensure that our organizations are still relevant? And, that our mission is impactful?
Or are we ensuring that we don’t go out of business because failure to look at the community means that we don’t have a look at whether or not we are needed any longer and to what degree?
I applaud this group for taking this step and for assessing their community. The data is rich. And, it will inform future discussions around mission and direction, about fundraising and case for supports, about capital campaigns, etc., etc., etc.
I urge you to take the same steps, and then to ask the tough question – what does relevancy mean? And, are we still relevant to those that we serve?
And, folks, this is the realm of governance. Something that your board should be asking and looking at in-depth.
The lens of mission must guide everything that a Board of Directors decides in an organization. Everything.
Board members are the vanguard of the mission. They develop it; they refine it, and they ensure it. They ensure that the organization is meeting the needs of those that they serve through assessing the community during a strategic planning process, then evaluating current services to ensure that there is alignment between need, mission, and programs.
A mission statement is nothing to be taken lightly. It is the very essence of who your organization is and as such, such be deliberate and thoughtful in its crafting. Mission statement crafting or refining is not something undertaken lightly. In most cases, in happens in tandem with strategic planning. Once a mission has been crafted or revised, the Board should use this mission in all that it does through its governance role.
Whether making a financial decision or a programmatic one, the mission is the lens by which organizations make all their decisions. Let’s take funding for instance. I have seen groups who will actively seek funding dollars, not based upon the mission, but because they are in need of monies to run the organization. And, then when they receive the money, they are not able to provide adequate services. Or, other agencies which are religious in nature that begin to solicit and accept government funding, and then when mandates come down from the federal and state government, these organizations find themselves in precarious moral and ethical quandaries because they have now engaged in these types of contracts.
Programmatically, I have witnessed groups who have started programs or provided services to new constituencies without a thorough discussion centering upon the mission. Then years later, they are serving populations that they never set out to help and wonder how they have moved so far from their core.
Mission. For Board of Directors, this is the lens through which they should make all their decisions. Every strategic governance issue or question should also start with an analysis of the situation through the mission.
Will this particular change impact our mission? If it does, what does that mean? If it doesn’t, should it? How do we remain faithful to our mission? What does it mean to be true to our mission? Should we accept this funding or will it lead to “mission creep?” Do we serve this new population in need or is there another organization who can better meet their needs?
And, yes, sometimes our missions are met. Horrors of all horrors, what happens when we meet our mission. Sometimes that means a group ceases. But, in far too many cases, we think that our organization should go on forever. But, yet we were all started in some senses to alleviate social conditions. What does it say when we never allow ourselves to get there.
Mission. Don’t over gloss the importance of it. And, don’t forget to use it as the lens of every decision made within an organization. It is just that critical.
Ah, Board committees. Now, we get knee deeper into confusion. So, keeping the Board focused on governance is challenging work. Keeping the committees focused on governance seems at times almost impossible.
A few observations from the field.
Just like with Board of Directors, Board committee’s need position descriptions and expectations. Now, I won’t recommend specific committees because each organization is different, but the basics such as Finance and Governance Committees are essential.
Why a position description for the committee? Well, far too often, I have seen committees want to take over management types of activities. You know, they think governance is at the Board collective level, and therefore, they can focus on getting things done. Yes, to some extent, but with specific parameters in place. A committee also needs to be engaging in governance regarding examining trends and their implications.
Take, for instance, a Development Committee. Where does the line end between helping to establish a philanthropic goal, approving a fundraising plan, and then actually implementing the work and sometimes even circumventing staff efforts? Ah, yes, this does happen. And, it happens more than we like to think. Once you get down to the committee level, management seems to creep in. So, a powerful committee position description will help to create appropriate boundaries.
Now, I say, in the case of Fund Development, members as part of this committee work to engage their fellow Board members in the process of fund development. So, they may call upon a Board member to chair an event, or to help solicit funds, or to introduce the organization to a significant prospect. This fact does not mean that the manage the fundraising process. And, this is not to say that they manage staff. That is up to staff. But, even in all-volunteer organizations, when Board members must manage, governance comes first. Heck, you can establish a special event committee of the Board that works on event logistics with both Board and non-Board members. Governance rules.
Moreover, committees in no way, shape, or form make decisions for the Board. No, way. You see, the only people that make decisions for the Board is the Board collective. Committees can wrestle with tough strategic, governance issues, and make recommendations for actions at the Board meeting, but in now way does the Committee make a decision that is not vetted and voted by the Board as a whole. Again, clearly outlined position descriptions and expectations create parameters for appropriate behavior.
I know, I know, governance in small nonprofits. Again, governance discussions come first. Operational issues can be done by a task force or other such components. The Finance Committee in a large or small organization needs to look at economic trends in the overall community both locally and globally and make sound fiscal decisions. That does not mean that they get into the minutia. Yes, Board members do need to do management kinds of things in small non-profits, but they can also engage their membership or volunteers to assist in getting things done. So, while a nature organization needs to discuss trail maintenance and who is going to do it, they most importantly need to discuss which trails where, why, and how much is going to cost. What are the environmental impacts of a trail system, etc. They can always appeal to their membership or the general community to help clear brush.
So, again, clear, written, articulated in advance, position descriptions for the Board as a collective, individual Board members and the committees of the Board themselves are needed to create parameters and boundaries around keeping the Board focused on its significant role in governance.
I have been known to point out, “Would you see a Board committee of Pepsi-Cola engaging in supervising staff other than the CEO, or working in the factory bottling soda pop?” Even small, family-owned businesses, need to talk about things like, “there is a new competitor in town, what does that mean for us?” or “Our chocolate sales hit rock bottom, what is our cash flow over the next year?”
No, so what makes us in nonprofits think that we need to operate any differently? Just because we are “non-profit” doesn’t imply that our Boards of Directors should operate any differently. The difference being that for-profit Boards report to stockholders and our Boards report to stakeholders. And, yes, my friend, we can offer our Board compensation if we wanted to go that far.
Last week, I noted how all-volunteer and small staffed organizations must engage in governance at the Board level. I pointed out that one of the first steps is to secure commitment to change. Some groups may not want to change and need to wrestle with the question of “what does not changing mean for our organization?” You can read that article here.
Others on the other hand do. So, after they gain consensus and commitment to changing, one of the next natural steps to creating this cultural shift on the board level is to look at the Board’s position descriptions. Now, I must say, this is where the dialogue gets quiet for my me and my client. For you see, I find that many have some form of a Board member expectation outline, simple as they may be, but lack a basic Board of Directors position description.
How can that be? I am not sure. I think that sometimes, perhaps groups don’t understand the full role of the Board and therefore don’t design a position description outlining the roles and responsibilities of a Board. On the other hand, some Boards by design, especially smaller nonprofit organizations, create Board positions to assist in getting the day-to-day organizational work complete, and the Board mainly functions as a management/volunteer rather than as a governance focused Board.
Just like in the “real” world, we wouldn’t expect to hire someone or to take a job that does not have a position description. The case is the same here. Why would we expect a Board member to come on Board without outlining for them their duties and responsibilities and sharing that with them? The Board holds one of the largest, if not THE most important role within an organization. In fact, the “buck” stops with the Board. How do you assess and release Board members if they or you haven’t defined that role for them?
And, we wonder why Boards are not functioning the way we want or expect them to. We haven’t begun to identify the parameters of what that work entails. We expect Board members to come on board fully engaged and knowing of their responsibilities, and when they don’t, we get frustrated and upset with our Board’s performance.
So, after seeking consensus and commitment, an organization must move to defining what a Board member’s role is and formalize and adopt this position description outlining functions and responsibilities. From there, you can design, based on the culture and needs of your organization, individual Board member expectations regarding their participation in a wide variety of organizational matters including, most importantly, fund development.
We all know that there is a difference between a Board of Directors as a collective unit and an individual Board member, right?
Board governance is challenging work. It is especially difficult for smaller organizations. Even more so in all volunteer organizations.
When organizations lack staff including an Executive Director, it is the Board of Directors who often fills in the “gap” of responsibility regarding getting the day to day activities of the organization done. Board members may be out sweeping, cutting down trees, writing appeal letters, and providing critical direct services to clients. So, doing Board governance is often last on a small Board’s list of things to do or to talk about at Board meetings.
What is Board governance? Board governance is the process whereby the Board operates as a collective unit to ensure the health of the organization through overseeing things such as legal and moral obligations and a relevant and impactful mission. That is governance. It is not the day to day oversight of an organization; that is management.
There is a distinction between the Board as a collective and the roles of individual Board members. So, when the Board meets as a collective, it must focus on Corporate Governance. However, that does not preclude individual Board members from wanting to do management kinds of things – within reason.
It doesn’t matter the size of the Board or the staff. All Boards need to focus and act on Corporate Governance. They can’t be focused on management and expect to do a Board’s due diligence in terms of ensuring the health and sustainability of the organization. Some have said to me, “We are an all volunteer organization, we don’t have staff. These types of things don’t apply to us.” A Board is a Board is a Board, and Boards exist to ensure the legal, moral, and ethical fabric of the organization and be the vanguard for its mission.
Board members should not be discussing whether or not the clients need more hours or that some gardens need planting. That is not the realm of the Board. The Board as a collective should be looking at things like what is on the horizon in terms of financial risks, how they should plan for the future strategically, do they have a leadership succession plan in place, what are the expectations of their Board members, and are they in compliance with federal and state mandates.
How does a small organization with limited staff or all volunteers make this transition from management to Corporate Governance? It is not easy, but it can be done. When any Board is thinking about moving towards a Board governance model, which they should, the most important first strategic questions they must ask themselves as a Board collective is “Do we even want change?” “What will change mean for our organization?” “What will happen if we don’t decide to change?” and “What will change look like for our Board?”
There must be consensus on these critical questions before moving forward towards a Corporate Governance model. Before thinking about term-limits or financial risks, the Board of Directors must be committed to moving forward in a different, new way. This will be the first exercise that the Board undertakes in its new Corporate Governance role. Without this commitment, Board Governance will not happen.
Let’s cut to the chase. I know, and you know that one of the biggest things that stop us from being effective in our fundraising is fear. Good old, heart pumping, nail biting, fear.
Recently, I had a conversation with some folks, and I asked them the question, “what is your number one concern around fundraising?” And, time and time again, folks responded, “fear of being rejected.”
Let’s face it; we just don’t like being told no. And, while no may not be personal, it sure feels that way, right?
So, then I have had to ask, are we projecting onto our donors and making assumptions about how they will respond? Meaning, are we projecting our fear of rejection onto them. I am sure that we have all thought at some point, “Oh he won’t give anything to support us, so why even ask in the first place.” Are we projecting our thoughts, fears, and assumptions on a donor, so that we won’t have to attempt to ask or even just develop a relationship with him or her?
There once was a very insightful book I read. It was Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. He spends a whole chapter on “Making Assumptions.” Here is a quote that I think will help you in your work with donors:
“The biggest assumption (in my opinion) is that we assume everyone sees the world and each circumstance the way WE do. We assume they think, feel, and even judge the way we do. This assumption sparks our internal fear of being ourselves around others we think they will judge, victimize or blame us; just as we do to ourselves. So before someone has the opportunity to accept or reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. The way to keep from making assumptions is to ask questions.”
I urge you to take a look at your fears before embarking on major gift work. Are you fearful of rejection personally? And, how is that fear allowing you to make assumptions for donors, just so that you won’t suffer the slings and arrows of rejection in the asking?
This question that I pose is a tough question to think about, but I am asking you to dig deep, not for me, for you, or even for your organization, but for all those in need that you can help by clearing away your fears and your assumptions.
“I never have enough money!”
“Money goes out faster than it comes in!”
“Money doesn’t grow on trees!”
How often have we heard these phrases growing up? Well, if you were like me, probably a lot. As a child, these were the messages that I subconsciously learned about money, and they helped to develop my now adult relationship with it.
Just this week, I led a workshop on asking for money. As part of the icebreaker exercise, I asked attendees to share with me some of their greatest fears about fundraising. And, fear after fear centered around scarcity. In fact, many participants commented that they grew up hearing the very same phrases above.
Stop and think about what you believe about money. Are your beliefs limiting you in your work? Do you have a scarcity mindset?
Have you ever found yourself saying these types of things?
“There are only so many donors to go around!”
“Donors only have so much money to give!”
“We already asked our donors once this year; we can’t ask again!”
Are we placing our beliefs on our donors? Are we making assumptions for our donors? Are we self-sabotaging our work? Are we limiting our role in the work that we do? Are we focusing our efforts and time on things such as events that will take us out of the context of asking?
To be truly effective fundraisers, we all need to dig deep and look at our views and those beliefs of scarcity that may be holding you back. Are they self-limiting and if so how can you work to create an abundance mindset? We don’t want scarcity from preventing our life-changing work from happening both for our donors and for our missions. So, it is critical that you identify your mindset and work to change it. Major gifts start with you. Get that part of the relationship right first.
Break the scarcity mindset before you ask for a major gift.
Research has shown that people like to talk about themselves. And, there is a reason why. It stimulates areas of the brain. It makes them physically feel good to talk about themselves – stimulating the same areas in the brain that sex, cocaine, and good food does. And, we all know what good food does for us!
What scientists found is that “Activation of this part of the brain when discussing the self-suggests that self-disclosure, like other more traditionally recognized stimuli, may be inherently pleasurable—and that people may be motivated to talk about themselves more than other topics (no matter how interesting or important these non-self topics may be).”
Talking about oneself makes you likeable, builds trust and social bonds, and creates overall happiness. Talking about oneself also leads to the feeling of teamwork. So when we get folks talking about themselves, areas of their brains start to fire and create a pleasurable experience.
This fact all indicates to the types of conversations that we should be having with our donors. Discussions not about our organizations or what we are doing or are interested in, they should be aimed at getting the donor to talk about themselves. It makes them feel good, and it starts that cycle of self-sharing where they feel as if they want to share more.
While we all have been told to find out more about what makes our donors tick, in this case, I urge you to do that and more. Find out what makes them “tick” and help them feel good about meeting with you, the relationship that is developing, and ultimately your organization! People like to talk about themselves because it feels good. So, get people feeling good and happy, and you will build trust and likeability. Go ahead, do it.
So, how can we engage donors in self-talk? Start by asking them what their interests are:
What personally excites them?
What legacy are they hoping to leave in the world?
Why does this cause matter to them?
What do they enjoying doing in their free time?
What enrages them most about what is happening in the world today?
What is one thing on their bucket list?
What keeps them up at night?
How would they like to make a difference?
What has been their greatest life achievement?
What book have they read that has been most thought provoking?
Etc., etc., etc.
Ask them to share about their:
Etc., etc., etc.
Use these conversation starters to get your donor to begin talking about themselves and sharing more about what interests them. It is your job to listen. So rather than think about what you’re going to say before going into a donor meeting. Think about what questions you can ask that will stimulate this self-sharing and ultimately lead the donor to share more while feeling good. And, we all know what happens when you make a donor feel good!
Recently, I had some conversations with a former co-worker. Her outlook and atmosphere had changed so dramatically that I had pause and ask, what is different. Well, she set me on the course of all of her “research” on the importance of human body language. And, I realized that there was profound applicability for me personally, but also for me professionally as a fund development professional, particularly as it applied to major gifts work.
So, I set out to view some of these suggested videos on research from my friend. And, I wanted to put some ideas in practice.
The first important concept I learned about is “setting your intention.” When I Googled setting an intention, I came up with many entries. The practice of doing so has deep historical and religious roots. However, it is about stating what you want the outcome to be for a given encounter. The second concepts that I am learning about are the importance of non-verbal body language and how to “command”
your territory. Use facial gestures that indicate happiness, open up your chest area, use hands to illustrate your words, etc.
With an upcoming major gift visit, I decided to put some of these concepts into practice.
For this particular major gift solicitation, I knew that there was an ideal gift in mind. So, before I arrived at the meeting, I had decided that I was going to set the intention. The intention of this particular meeting was to obtain a gift of a pre-determined amount. I also made a conscious effort to use some of these body language techniques. Sitting with shoulders back, feet planted, a smile on my face, conversations “easers,” and the most important topic, using hand gestures.
What was the result? Well, evidently I felt more confident and at ease. I held the attention of those I were meeting. They and I were both at ease with each other. And, most important when negotiation started regarding the gift amount, that intention was there, and it propelled me forward. So when an objection popped up, I found myself more purposeful regarding setting the donor’s heights higher than what they were even thinking.
The question remains will the gift come in at that amount? Truly, it is up to the donor to decide, and they are going to take that time to do so. However, what was most important is that these “new” techniques gave me greater confidence to be able to ask for my intention with much greater ease. Subconsciously set, the intention moved me forward in a way that I had not been before.
So, I see where my former co-worker is getting her energy. There is something to this science of body language. Others have spent work studying the importance of what we say and the emotions in which we say it in fund development, but I have seen little on the non-verbal study of people and their behaviors and how we interact. I suppose if we are involved in major or individual gift work that it would behoove us to learn more about these techniques for ourselves and to study what they mean in others.
Off I go to watch more TED Talks. And, you need to keep track of this gent…Mark Bowden, the leading expert on body language!
Let’s get rid of our printed newsletter and just send an e-newsletter.
Our donors don’t like personal solicitations.
We are only going to send out one appeal a year because we don’t want to send too much mail to our donors.
I hear statements like this all the time. And, I wonder if we are making decisions for our donors. I know that this goes for some groups.
When I surmise this is the case, I often ask, “Have you asked your donors?” And, the response is “No, how do you ask them?”
Well, quite simply you meet with them, or you call them on the telephone, and you ask them questions. Questions like, “how much mail would you like from us?” or ” how do you prefer to be called upon to make a gift to us?” or even, “how do you prefer to get information from us?”
There are other ways to ask donors what they prefer.
Try a donor survey. You may design a questionnaire that asks things such as:
Why does he/she support the organization?”
Which programs, projects, or issues you address are the most important to him/her?
Is your organization one of his/her top philanthropic priorities?
Do he/she actively use email and do does he/she prefer to get emails from you?
Is he/she planning to remember your organization in his/her estate plans?
How old is he/she (hint ask for a birthday or date range)?
Etc., etc., etc.
Before mailing to your donors, be sure to test the survey and solicit feedback from other folks like your colleagues, friends, or family members, and include an envelope, a personalized letter, a brochure, and a self-addressed reply envelope as part of a survey package.
Then send this package out and be sure to analyze and document these returns. Don’t just let them pile up.
Then and only then will you be able to understand truly who your donors are, what motivates them to give to you, and what decisions you should make regarding your strategy, approach, and appropriate communications.
For instance, after you analyze and track the returned information, you can then segment your donors and mail materials that interest them.
But, the adage of “you don’t know until you ask” is such a critical element of driving all that you do in fund development.
We surely cannot begin to make assumptions for our donors based on our thoughts, interests, and profiling.
Are you looking at your donor retention rate? It seems like this is old hat in the field, but yet, it is such an important metric to be measuring in your development office. The question is, are you?
It is more expensive and difficult to obtain a new donor than it is to keep a loyal donor. Do you know that it costs an average of twenty cents per dollar raised to renew donors via direct mail? It costs about $1 to $1.25 to acquire a donor using that same method. That is five times more. And, on the converse, these new donors tend to give substantially less. It is much easier to upgrade an existing loyal donor to a higher level of giving.
Are you running regular donor retention reports to determine what your rate is? How does your donor retention rate compare to industry standards? How does your donor retention rate compare to organizations in your area? Is your rate going up, or is it going down? If it is going down, what steps are you taking?
Here are a few ideas to boost your retention rate:
Consider decreasing the time required to send out an acknowledgment letter. Best practice is 24-48 hours.
Call higher level donors and thank them for their gift or why not try calling everyone new.
Send out a welcome package to new donors making them feel a part of the organization
Send out regular updates either via email or printed news or both several times per year that are no solicitations.
Report back to the donor what their gift was able to make possible.
Develop a formal stewardship plan with donors of different giving levels getting different touches.
If you are not looking at donor retention, start. While donor acquisition is still important, you can’t overlook the importance of keeping your donors interested in your work and supporting your mission.
What ways are you keeping your donors happy, satisfied, and giving?