Enhance Your Impact Through “Design Thinking”

photo (4)By Theresa Reid, principal, Theresa Reid, PhD + Associates, Consulting

This post is one in a series written by nonprofit leaders who are presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum, which is taking place in Washingtion, DC, on October 9 & 10. We hope you are planning to join us.

Once upon a time, a packaging designer came up with an ingenious, inexpensive, theft-reducing way for industries to package consumer products: Encase them in airtight, watertight, hard plastic shells. Soon, billions of plastic-encased consumer goods flooded retail shelves from coast to coast. Almost immediately, a chorus of profanity rose skyward across the land as people tried in vain to pry their goods loose from their hermetically sealed packaging. Hospital emergency rooms began routinely treating wounds from the knives, screwdrivers, scissors, and saws that maddened consumers used to get at their stuff.

This infamous example illustrates a major impetus behind the drive to incorporate “design thinking” into innovation-obsessed businesses: the need to understand, empathically, the experience of end users. Sealed plastic packaging is cheap and efficient for producers and retailers, but costly in terms of customers’ time, safety, peace of mind, and satisfaction.

It’s easy to think of examples of bad design in your life. In my house, it’s the bucket that catches the ice in my freezer. No matter what I or my family members do, when we try to take out a few ice cubes, several end up on the floor. There’s nothing for it! That’s not user error – that’s a design flaw.

Many design flaws in our lives are trivial — just annoyances, really. But flaws in the design of programs or products meant to address human problems can hurt people. A sad example: In the 1960s and 1970s, many municipalities sought to improve living conditions for impoverished citizens by building modern high-rise apartment complexes to replace sprawling ghettos of misery. Of course, many of these high-rise complexes — like Cabrini-Green, in Chicago, where I lived — simply became vertical ghettos of misery. Most have been torn down now, thankfully, as municipalities attempt more humane solutions to poverty.

Typically, the most basic ingredient missing in bad design — from the faulty ice-cube container and impenetrable packaging to housing projects like Cabrini-Green — is a real understanding of the experience of the end user.

To avoid costly errors, many businesses and, increasingly, nonprofits and NGOs, are embracing “design thinking,” a six-step process of product or program development that is rooted in empathy and characterized by creative collaboration and rapid experimentation and revision.

The six stages of design thinking are Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test, and Revise. In brief, each step is as follows.

Empathize: Understand the people you hope to help and how your decisions will affect them. This means getting out of your office to observe, interview, and interact with your key audience.

Define: Compile all of your observations and carefully conceptualize and articulate a “design challenge” that clarifies the need you’ve discovered in a concise, targeted, and human-centered statement.

Ideate: Use ideation strategies (not just brainstorming) to generate a wide range of possible solutions to the identified challenge.

Prototype: Rapidly create a workable version of the one or two ideas you think are most likely to be effective. Software developers talk about producing a “minimal viable product” — an iteration that is good enough to elicit useful consumer feedback for further targeted revision. That’s your prototype.

Test and Revise: In this stage, test your prototype on prospective end-users. Prototyping, testing, and revising is an iterative process that closely involves the end user, keeping the channels of empathy and understanding open, continuing to revise until the product or program closely meets the needs of the intended recipients.

Like old age, design thinking is not for the faint of heart. Design thinking is a messy process that requires stamina, perseverance, creativity, tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, and openness to the experience of others. And it’s not always the strategy you need.

But when you’re feeling stuck, when your organization is experiencing malaise or stagnancy, when you need to shake it out and get a fresh perspective — then design thinking can be a valuable new tool for driving your organization to well-informed, empathic, and effective activities.

Theresa Reid has worked in board and staff leadership positions in the nonprofit sector for 30 years, most recently with the School of Art & Design and other colleges at the University of Michigan. The session she is presenting at BLF is titled “Using ‘Design Thinking’ to Enhance Your Organization’s Impact.” 



Board Building for a Challenging World

photo (4)By Amish Mehta, CPA, partner and director of not-for-profit services group, Friedman LLP

This post is one in a series written by leaders who are participating in the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum taking place in Washington, D.C., on October 9 & 10. We hope you can join us. 

The Center Against Domestic Violence has experienced some governance challenges, which its board chair, John L. Miscione, and its chief executive officer, Judith Kahan, recently discussed with Amish Mehta. He shares some of the highlights here.

Amish: Let’s step back in terms of where you’ve been, from a board perspective. What have been the challenges, and what have been your needs to enhance the board?

John: Historically, the organization has had a board that was more community based, which aligned with its community-based roots. A good deal of the original board members came out of the community in which we started. Now, the world in which we operate has become more challenging, and in order for the organization to grow, it requires broader skill sets among its board members. We’ve had two challenges: first is re-thinking about what a Center board member looks like, and the second is to find them.

Judy: Historically, due to its nature, domestic abuse has been a topic that has been kept hidden and secret. Because of that, fundraising and board development came very late, and it has taken us many years to establish a board with senior management experience.

Amish: What is your ideal board member candidate?

John: The person has to be knowledgeable about the world of nonprofits and sensitive towards the mission of the organization. At the same time, they have to have a sense of business sophistication: the board needs executive ability as it relates to adaptation, whether it is financial planning or changing the way the organization is managed. So these two characteristics, on top of the ability to fundraise, are key.

We are aware that given the challenging environment, we have to balance the need to have a robust board with the need to have the right people. It’s a more demanding world for everyone. The board and organization is a work in progress: we have a firm foundation, good financials, and a great reputation, and we’re looking for board members with the right skill set to keep the organization moving forward.

Amish: What types of questions are potential board members asking you during the interview process?

John: The biggest obstacle is that people want to make sure they have sufficient time to dedicate to the organization. They want to know the time commitment more than anything else.

Amish: So how do you assure potential board members that they can handle the obligations?

John: Given the nature of our work and that our funding comes from government sources, I can say that relative to other organizations that are donor based, our work load and requirements (six 2-hour board meetings with an additional six hours of time for 10 months of the year) are reasonable.

Amish: What kind of policies and procedures have you implemented to ensure that there is a commitment to good governance?

Judy: The organization has been able to grow from $1 million to $9 million [in annual expenditures], though it has taken 20 years. We’re one of the only domestic violence organizations with a quality assurance component: every record is checked, and we get reports from state and city auditors.

John: The organization has a committee structure, and nominating and finance are two of the key committees. Our finance committee has always been very organized, and there’s always been a disciplined budgeting process overseen by Judy. There’s also always an audited financial statement provided by an auditor of quality. We had a conflict-of-interest review from a major law firm, and have a conflict-of-interest policy in place. Every year, board members must sign various documents on conflicts, whistleblower, etc.

Judy: We also give each board member a list of responsibilities and a manual that contains minutes from last year, the budget, bylaws, and information about the agency. When at least two board members join, we do a board training. Ideally, when a board member’s term is up, we would like for them to replace themselves and find suitable candidates for us.

John: And within the last two years, we had two attorneys join the board who reviewed our by-laws for compliance. Today, the board is considering bringing on a consultant to improve our process and facilitate how we operate.

Amish: How have you managed to make your impact known to the outside world?

John: This is challenging for us, given that many things we do are private in nature. We’re considering making videos with actors in order to tell the stories of the people we’ve helped. If we want to expand, we have to be more knowledgeable and more willing to tell our story in ways that protect the people who use our services, but at the same time allows the wonderful record of this organization to shine so that people can understand what has been done and how we’ve changed lives since 1976.

Amish Mehta can be reached at AMehta@FriedmanLLP.com. He will be leading a round-table discussion at the Leadership Forum.


Are You Listening to Your Board Members?

photo (4)By Peter Zehren, president & CEO, Zehren Consulting

This post is one in a series written by board leaders who will be presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum on October 9 & 10 in Washington, D.C. We hope you will be joining us.

Many boards never understand and utilize the potential each member has to invest in the organization. Having committed to a board, new members are often “on-boarded” out of any fresh, innovative, or challenging ideas they might have. Instead of grooming members to fill the usual skillset, I work to build stronger boards through understanding the value each member brings to the table.

As board members, we can work on building strength through a diversity of new members and a balance of ideas. I’m talking about bankers, artists, architects, techies, and venture capitalists just to mention a few. If we build our board from individuals who have different lenses on the world, who bring thought diversity, we will be able to approach our challenges from new perspectives.

I often remind organizations that board members made a commitment to the organization. Strength comes from honoring those commitments and listening for the interest and value each member has brought to the team. By listening to new members instead of telling them how we operate, I have found we are able to open our board up for change, to see the potential as well as new directions.

The Technique

I apply community-building techniques that re-examine the views and skills each member brings to the table. The method includes asking clarifying questions, active listening, and building understanding before approaching the challenges we face as board members. And, the technique has brought real impact. Through using it, one organization increased donations in one year by 400 percent. It all hinges on learning about each other, respecting our differing methods, and being open to new possibilities. Balancing the thought leaders on our board and allowing them to take ownership for their commitment to the organization builds real strength.

In the BLF session I will be leading on Building a Stronger Board, the participants will work in groups to explore this method. By asking clarifying questions and through active listening, the exercise helps uncover the value each member brings to the team. Commitment, diversity, perspective, and skills are explored in a more personal way that allows each member to get to know the other.

Part of strength also comes from solidifying commitment. Each board member may be able to contribute a range of skills. Each also has a number of commitments they balance. Understanding this ebb and flow can help increase the value your board members can bring to the organization. I have found it also helps in determining when a member should transition off. This type of personal examination can help members understand on their own when it’s time to move on.

How the board views and tells your organization’s story can also bring strength. What is it the board doesn’t know about me as a member? What value could I offer that has not been tapped into? The value and perspective each member has can enrich the way the organization’s message is relayed. As ambassadors for the organization, it’s important that we understand the organization’s story, but it’s equally important that as board member, I can own our part of it. Understanding how each member views the organization’s work will help us shape a stronger message.

The Method

The method I present is more about looking at board process and structure, not about solving problems like scarcity, need for funds, better leadership and how others should change. It focuses on replacing advice with curiosity and exploring an issue from all sides. It is in this search for deeper understanding that we are able to lift the cover on the root of our challenges. To learn what core issues are and how people outside the organization may see them. It leads to building a stronger board.

Peter Zehren has served on and led nonprofit boards throughout his career, and has conducted retreats for as many as seven boards at a time on fundraising and productivity in New York, NY.

Diversity is the New Black

photo (5)By Ebonie Johnson Cooper, chief millennial officer, Friends of Ebonie, LLC

This post is another in our series written by nonprofit leaders presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum (BLF) taking place on October 9 & 10 in Washington, DC. We encourage you to attend.

Does your board look like the photo on the left? Many do, even though the greatest buzzword in 2014 is “diversity.”

Like the word “millennials,” everyone wants a piece of “diversity” but very few have any idea of what to do with it. Companies boast being committed to diversity and inclusion on their website, and they add the EEOC clause to employee applications to cover their bases, I suppose. Companies like Google release that two percent of its employees are black as a first step to creating change. For executives like Mellody Hobson, one of two black women chairing a publicly traded company, the problem doesn’t just start in the cubicles, it starts in the boardroom. After sharing that she and Harold Ford, a former member of the Tennessee House of Representative, were mistaken for kitchen help at their own event, she broke down just how staggering things are in corporate America. “Even though white men make up just 30 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 70 percent of the corporate board seats,” said Hobson. In my own internet sweep, I found out on Associations Now that 93 percent of white men chair these boards and oh yeah, 87 percent of all corporate boards are all white. And what about public sector organizations? Not much better. “About 20 years ago [nonprofit boards], were 86 percent Caucasian, and in our 2012 Nonprofit Governance Index, that number dropped to about 82 percent,” Vernetta Walker, BoardSource’s chief governance officer shared on Associations Now. However, 30 percent of the 1,300 CEOs surveyed in 2012 by BoardSource said their boards are 100 percent white.

A few months ago, I had four conversations with various professionals in the philanthropic sector, two white men and two black women. All of those discussions touched on the topic of diversity — or lack thereof within the sector. It goes without saying that because I am a black woman and the nature of my work is with black millennials and giving, the comfort to address this topic probably seemed apparent. But what wasn’t so apparent to me is the lack of open-mindedness that exists within philanthropy and particularly nonprofit board governance. In a sector that prides itself on helping the disadvantaged, many of whom are black and brown, it amazes me that the black and brown are rarely at the table helping to make decisions about their own communities. In one of my meetings, it was shared that management felt that finding black professionals to serve on the foundation’s board seemed “out of reach.” In another meeting, the resolution to creating diversity during a company-wide panel was to add a white woman.

Le sigh.

What can you do to help your organization truly be committed to diversity? You can start by learning how to engage with black and brown professionals who desire to serve your organizations.

My goal is to help nonprofits and foundations know that board diversity IS attainable. I know black people give back — and not just in church. I know black people serve as leaders — and their names aren’t just Jesse and Rev. Al. And hey, I even know that using leadership skills is the number one way African American millennials want to give their time. And yes, I know where to find these black people and how to engage with them. Vernetta Walker says it best with this question, “If you’re not ensuring that your leadership is as diverse and inclusive as those that you’re serving, then you have to ask, ‘Are you missing an opportunity? Are you truly representing those whom you say you are?’”

Diversity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the real world. To be part of the change we wish to see, we ALL need to be at the table. As Maya Angelou so eloquently stated, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”

To learn more about increasing racial and generational diversity on your board, I encourage you to attend my BLF session titled “The Young Black & Giving Back: How to Engage African-American Millennials in Board Leadership.”

Ebonie is the chief millennial officer for Friends of Ebonie, LLC, a consulting and coaching boutique specializing in diversity education, training, and programming for and about millennials and philanthropy. You can engage with her on social media at @EJCThatsMe and with the boutique at @FriendsofEbonie.

A version of this post originally appeared on Friends of Ebonie.com on June 3, 2014.


Use Advocacy to Close Your Nonprofit’s Doors!

photo (4)By Renee Vandlik, president, Advocacy Difference LLC

This post is one in a series written by nonprofit leaders who will be presenting sessions at the BoardSource Leadership Forum (BLF) taking place on October 9 & 10 in Washington, DC. We hope you’ll be joining us.

Most of us are drawn to the work of nonprofits from the compassion in our hearts, whether it is related to families, children, the arts, nature, parks, or many other causes. Compassion is the raw material on which the nonprofit sector is built, and it resides within all those who support it — staff, board members, volunteers, and constituents. It is because of our compassion that we must become advocates!

Buried within the word “compassion” is the word “passion,” and this is what fuels advocacy — passion for our missions! Advocacy unites the passion we all have toward one common end — accelerating our mission delivery. Advocacy adds credibility and strength to the stories and experiences of the individuals we serve or engage. Advocacy creates broader community awareness of the social issues and opportunities important to our missions. And, advocacy tactics build coalitions and educate our allies and opponents.

Many of us think advocacy is just another word for lobbying, which makes us uncomfortable. While it is true that advocacy does include lobbying, not all advocacy is lobbying. Many advocacy activities are not limited by federal guidelines, nor are classified as lobbying-related activities.

But, for those advocacy tactics that do include direct communication with state or local lawmakers or administrative officials, rather generous federal limitations do exist to ensure the voices of those most passionate can be heard. For nonprofits that file the 501(h) election, limitations are easily measurable and managed. For example, for a nonprofit with an annual operating budget of $250,000, IRS guidelines permit up to $50,000 in direct lobbying expenses, and up to $12,500 in grassroots lobbying expenses. And, for a nonprofit with an annual operating budget of $750,000, IRS guidelines permit up to $137,500 in direct lobbying expenses, and $34,375 in grassroots lobbying expenses.

Advocacy that includes lobbying can be vital to our nonprofit’s mission. It can create reform, fund a public policy, or even shut our nonprofit’s doors — which is a good thing! If we work and volunteer for the right reasons, we should all strive each and every day to close our doors for good! Then, we will have so successfully accelerated our mission delivery that we’ve fulfilled it!

Advocacy unites the voices of those most passionate to deliver one clear message for systematic change. Imagine a world that is a vision of your mission realized. Because of advocacy, perhaps we will someday

  • discover the cause, halt the progression, and cure multiple sclerosis
  • achieve 100 percent high school graduation rates
  • eliminate domestic violence
  • achieve parity in the workforce among men and women workers

While these outcomes may seem too idealistic to achieve, aren’t these examples of the realities and outcomes we seek?

What is your dream? What is your mission? As leaders in the nonprofit sector, we must consider how best and fastest to achieve our desired ends. Doesn’t our compassion demand that we be passionate advocates?

Renee Vandlik is accredited in public relations. She is presenting a BLF session titled “Meet Your Mission with Advocacy.”




Designing Community-Level Support for Emerging Leaders

photo (4)By Carrie Minnich, co-chair, Get On Board

How do you attract the next generation to your board and make sure they have the skills to be the future leaders of your organization?

Two Northeast Indiana organizations came together in 2011 to address this issue by creating Get On Board (GOB), a program of the Paul Clarke Nonprofit Resource Center at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, made possible by the Foellinger Foundation. GOB’s goal is to train, connect, and support emerging leaders and the nonprofit organizations they serve. Through various programs and events, emerging leaders learn what it means to serve as a board member of a nonprofit, and nonprofit organizations learn how to create a welcoming environment for new board members.

In our main program, Board Bootcamp, emerging leaders gain an understanding of the nonprofit sector, their basic responsibilities as a board member, and how to find an organization that fits them. A significant portion of the course is understanding the ten basic responsibilities of nonprofit boards, as presented in BoardSource’s book by that title. We also have participants who decide after going through Bootcamp that board service is not for them at this point in their life, and that’s okay. Board service is not for everyone.

After completing Bootcamp, emerging leaders have the opportunity to attend GOB’s Get Connected: Nonprofit Speed Dating event, which brings together emerging leaders and nonprofit organizations looking for board/committee members. Emerging leaders have the opportunity to “date” 20-30 nonprofit organizations in one evening. Our main focus is building relationships. Too often nonprofit boards want a young person to fill a box on their board composition matrix. We view making a connection with a nonprofit similar to the dating/marriage process. Both sides (the emerging leader and nonprofit organization) need to date first to get to know each other. It needs to be a good fit for both sides; otherwise the “marriage” will not work.

We also encourage emerging leaders to volunteer with an organization or join a committee before becoming a board member. At the same time, nonprofit organizations learn what skills and interests emerging leaders have to bring to their board other than just checking a box with a “young” person.

For nonprofit organizations, we offer SpringBoard programs to help recruit, retain, and engage a new generation of board members through the use of the board building cycle, as outlined in BoardSource’s popular publication. Nonprofits learn about the life cycle of a nonprofit, founder’s syndrome, board recruitment, and engagement practices.

Accomplished area board members who have been honored for board service are also stepping up to share their experiences with emerging leaders. Through intimate lunches, emerging leaders have the opportunity to discuss leadership concerns with experienced board members who are interested in passing the torch to the next generation.

Over the past three years, we have had numerous success stories. More than 160 emerging leaders and 125 nonprofits have benefited from GOB’s programs. We have also noticed a shift in the community from nonprofit organizations simply asking for the name of a young person to “fill a seat” to “When is your next event that I can participate in?” Nonprofits have come to understand the value of emerging leaders on their boards and that not all are created equal. We have also had emerging leaders go through Board Bootcamp and subsequently Get Connected where they have made a match with a nonprofit. They have accepted a board position and returned to Get Connected: Nonprofit Speed Dating on the other side of the table, as a nonprofit representative looking for new board members.

Want to hear more? Let Donald tell you his story.


And attend my BLF session to discover how you can design support for emerging board leaders in your community.

Carrie Minnich co-chairs the Get on Board Committee with Lettie Haver.

The Leadership Opportunity: You’re Next!

photo (4)By David Livingston Styers, director of consulting services and senior board governance consultant, Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership; BoardSource senior governance consultant

 This post is one in a series written by nonprofit leaders who are presenting sessions at the BoardSource Leadership Forum in Washington, DC, on October 9 &10. We hope you will be joining us.

Nearly every day, I continue to be amazed to read about the struggles of nonprofits and their boards, and so many just throwing up their hands in defeat. I’m reminded of the quote from the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky who, when asked what the secret to his success was, said: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” I worry about nonprofits just trying to find the puck, much less working to be prepared for where the puck is going.

Anticipating tomorrow — constituent and stakeholder needs, shifts in funding streams, board composition, and on and on — is critical for leadership today. The nonprofit sector has been undergoing tremendous change in recent years, from the downturn in the economy to the beginning of the generational shift of organizational leadership. And we will all have to learn to adapt to the new normal that has resulted in society, our communities, and our daily lives.

While 2008’s economic collapse caught us by surprise, we have known for a long time that the 77 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are nearing the traditional retirement age. We are entering a period of both transition and opportunity for Baby Boomers and the 100-plus million Generation Xers and Gen Yers born during or after 1965 that follow. Note that only 14 percent of board members are under the age of 40.

Many of us recognize the significance of this transition but are challenged about how to address the impact and opportunities of this change. More and more, the most effective organizations are realizing that to navigate this change successfully, they must recruit and retain the best leaders (both staff and board), value unique talents, and include diverse voices. We must develop the skills and networks of leaders to not only help expand and improve the nonprofit talent pool but also help provide professional and personal development for leaders in general.

I worry that the tales of woe and frightening stories that we read on a daily basis will scare off future talent from the nonprofit sector. Despite, or maybe because of, these worse-case scenarios, there has never been a better time to engage in the vital work that nonprofits are doing in communities. This truly is the great opportunity of our day, though it will not be without its challenges. When we work together on innovative forms of engagement and new ways of doing business, however, everyone benefits.

Ultimately, regardless of age, race, or wealth, all individuals need to feel and know that they can make a difference to the nonprofit organizations and people they serve. Organizations are like an oyster — without friction, an oyster cannot produce a pearl. New leaders on boards and staffs and as volunteers can be just what a nonprofit needs — that tiny speck of friction — to form a beautiful pearl — the pearls of active citizens, effective institutions, and vibrant communities.

David Styers’s BLF session is titled “Redesigning Your Board Members into Board Leaders.”

Fundraising? It’s Everyone’s Job

photo (8)By Gail Perry, president, Gail Perry Associates/Firedupfundraising.com

This post is one in our series written by nonprofit leaders who will be presenting sessions at the BoardSource Leadership Forum (BLF) taking place on October 9 & 10 in Washington, DC. We hope you’ll be joining us.

Whose job is it to raise funds for your organization? Many leaders want to keep the fundraising monkey on YOUR back, not theirs! It’s everyone’s job to support fundraising — both board AND staff. And there are many ways to support fundraising that don’t even involve soliciting funds.

When it comes to your board, you can count on this:  Board members are almost always afraid of fundraising. That’s because many board members don’t understand how fundraising really works. They think it’s all about “asking” rather than building long-term relationships with donors who stick with you. You can almost bet that they will throw the fundraising monkey on YOUR back if they possibly can. This is an uncomfortable — and perhaps untenable — spot for a staff fundraiser.

Here are some strategies to help get the fundraising monkey on EVERYBODY’S back, not just yours.

1. Help board members understand the many roles they can play to support fundraising.

 You know that there are many, many fundraising activities that happen at your nonprofit. And most of these do NOT involve asking for money. Here are some of the roles board members can play:

Gail Perry graphic









Many board members don’t understand the major gifts fundraising cycle.

  • Help write thank-you letters.
  • Make their own proud gift and invite others to join them in giving.
  • Make introductions for you to potential donors.
  • Have “listening” conversations with prospects to find out their hot buttons.
  • Host small socials and cultivation events.
  • Make thank-you visits or phone calls to donors.
  • Be sure the fundraising office is adequately funded and staffed with a smart plan.
  • Sell tickets and sponsorships to your events.

 2. Help board members understand smart fundraising strategy — and the donor pyramid.

About 20 gifts from 20 wonderful people could account for a major inflow of money to your organization. So you could focus everyone on seeking 20 top gifts. Those gifts will come from about 60 prospects. (Remember you want three prospects for every gift you need to close.)

gp graphic 2









Time and energy required for each fundraising step. Many roles for board members!

Once board members understand that major gift fundraising focuses on just a few people for deep cultivation, then they are often more willing to get involved in relationship development efforts.

3. Stage a training session about how major gift fundraising really works.

Board members typically ARE interested in “education.”  They like learning new things. And they want the skills and information they need to be successful. But your training format is key. Giving them a PowerPoint presentation WON’T WORK.  Instead, you have to ENGAGE them in discussions so that they have to incorporate the knowledge into their own experience. Otherwise they will just sit passively letting you do all the talking — and then they’ll sit back and let you do all the work. Engage them in real discussions: “Why should someone support our organization?” “Why do you care about our organization?” “How do our various fundraising programs work — how actually do we raise our money?” You’ll get into your board members’ heads and open them up to new ideas.

4. Ask board members: “What is the board’s role in our fundraising efforts?”

 When confronted with this question, it is hard for a board member to evade responsibility.

gp graphic 3








There are many jobs for board members in major gifts fundraising! Break them into small groups and ask each group to come up with five different activities that board members can do to support fundraising. You’ll be surprised! (And pleased.)

5. Change your language and start using words that imply “team.”

 Stop using the words “I” and “you” and start using the word “we.” Many staffers talk to the board members in these terms: “I need you to do this and this…” Or, “I can’t do all this by myself.” Instead, start saying, “We need to do this.”  And, “How are WE doing to get this done?”

6. Get a knowledgeable and supportive board member or two on your side.

It’s hard for you to rally the board members because you work for them. You are automatically “one-down” from the board. But other board members are peers. They can speak as equals to the other board members. They can rally the troops in a way that you can’t. So “hide behind” a board member or two — and let them speak to and encourage the group.

7. Enlist a special outside fundraising committee.

Many fundraising staffers create separate groups of volunteers to work with them on fundraising projects. Why? Because board members are not typically recruited for their fundraising skills. (We wish!) You could enlist a special Development Committee made up of people who are ONLY enlisted because of their personal networks and their ability to raise money. I’d hate for you to spend a lot of time banging your head against the wall with board members who don’t understand — or are afraid of — fundraising! Try enlisting outside help, and you just might get on the road to a successful major gifts effort. Be practical and conserve your energy.


It’s up to you to educate, train, motivate and inspire your board members to actively support fundraising. And you CAN do it! But if you’d like some help, check out my BLF session.


Five Ways to Be a Model Board Member

photo (4)By Karen Eber Davis, president, Karen Eber Davis

This post is one in a series written by board leaders who will be presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum on October 9 & 10 in Washington, D.C. We hope you will be joining us.

Last summer, Ilene Denton, the incoming board chair at The Hermitage Artist Retreat on Manasota Key in Florida, asked for some advice for board members. “I’d love to read more about the board’s role in a nonprofit,” she said. While much advice exists about how to be a good board member, a lot of it’s pretty nebulous. Here are five concrete actions for excellent board leaders.

1. Engage Fully

“Most of them only attended board meetings,” a CEO moans. “We had such a hard time getting quorum that we moved to quarterly meetings. Now, they’re scarcely attended.” To help a nonprofit you love, fully engage. Of course, attend meetings. Also, learn what full engagement means. Ask staff and board members for ideas. If interest exists, devote 30 minutes to the topic at a board meeting to create a list of engagement opportunities. Select the ones that best fit your interests and bring you joy.

2. Draw the Circle Bigger

“Thank you,” said Anita, my yoga instructor, “for bringing people.” As I went to my car, mat over my shoulder, I realized that over the years I had invited lots friends to the class. To succeed, your nonprofit needs to grow more dedicated supporters. Model board members invite others to join the community. Consider setting a personal standard to invite five people per month to engage with your nonprofit. Offer your invitations in ways that fit your style, such as

  • invite a couple to dinner so you can all attend an event being presented by your nonprofit after dinner
  • ask a friend with good writing skills to review your nonprofit’s marketing materials with a fresh eye
  • forward event or giving invitations to a small group on your mailing list; include a personal note of why you included the recipient and why you support the organization

3. Be a Model Donor

Surprise (or not!), donating money occupies a place on this list. Your nonprofit needs funds to survive and thrive. Model board members stretch when they give. If you know you can donate $100 a month, consider pledging $125 or $150. When you attend to your finances, write this check first. You behavior will inspire others to stretch higher as they give.

4. Adopt a Beginners Mind

As a board member, no matter your expertise, rejoice that you’re about to learn more, especially about nonprofit income development. We all do.

“I realized that while my board members knew a lot, they knew only a little about fundraising and running a nonprofit,” explained Martha Macris, executive director of Memorial Assistance Ministries in Houston. “My role is to lead and teach them about fundraising.”

Nonprofits income opportunities are complex. Seven sources of nonprofit income exist, and to learn more, I invite you to attend my session, Open the Floodgates to Sustainability: Seven Income Streams, Endless Variations at BLF, where we’ll delve into the opportunities.

5. Encourage Logical Decisions

The goal was to provide more affordable housing. The idea: Save existing houses slatted for demolition for an airport. We applied for a huge federal grant to move them. We didn’t get it. Looking back, this was extremely good news. Moving a dozen houses down a major thoroughfare would have been a project from the dark side. Saving existing houses was an emotional choice, not logical. It was easier and cheaper to rehabilitate existing houses in the community that didn’t need to be moved. Passionate people fill nonprofits — people seeking to do good. As a board leaders, help your nonprofit to funnel these passions into making logical decisions. As you make decisions, help the board to generate multiple options. Before decisions are made, consider the facts and alternatives. Ask questions about the long-term impact of decisions.

You are Precious

According to David Renz in a recent Reframing Governance webinar, 70 percent of nonprofits express difficulty attracting quality board members. Being a model board member sets you apart. You are a precious resource to the nonprofit you serve. As a board member, you want your time to be worthwhile. You want to help the nonprofit.  This post shares five concrete ways to act on your commitment. Select one. Begin today.

Karen Eber Davis is an authority on income growth strategies for nonprofits and, for 25 years, has advised nonprofits on how to create greater excellence.

Visualize Success: Five Questions to Spark Your Board Experience

photo (4)By Holly Duckworth, CEO, Leadership Solutions International

This post is one of a series written by individuals who will be presenting sessions at the 2014 BoardSource Leadership Forum on October 9 & 10 in Washington, D.C. We hope you will be joining us.

What you visualize, you actualize. When was the last time your board stepped back from the business plan, agendas, and meetings to feel what success would look like? Never? If that is your answer, you are not alone. The best athletes in the world talk about visualizing each step of the race in their training regime, about how they will feel when they cross the start line, about what it will feel like to leap over the first hurdle and lunge across the finish. They visualize this over and over in the months before the race.

Why don’t we do this as boards of directors? I will tell you: It is not knowing that we can use the skill of visualization in our organizations, fear that we do not know how, and doubt that we will do it correctly.

Now is the time. What you visualize, you actualize. When you choose to overcome lack, fear, and doubt, you will be closer to success.

Push back from the board table and invite your board members to visualize success. Invite them to breathe a little, meditate if you will. Help them tap into their hearts, and ask them:

  • What does the highest vision of this organization look like?
  • What does my organization at its highest and best look like, feel like, and sound like?
  • What must this organization become to realize this vision?
  • What must this organization let go of to make this vision a reality?
  • What must this organization embrace to build this vision?
  • What other wisdom does our board bring to the organization that we should know now?

The joy of working on a board is belief you have the best hearts and minds around the board table. Leadership today is more than motions, votes, and budgets; it’s about engaging hearts and minds. Use these questions to visualize your board running a successful race that each day gets you a little closer to actualizing your vision.

Holly Duckworth, CAE, CMP, is CEO of Leadership Solutions International and a consultant, speaker, futurist, and facilitator. The session she is presenting at BLF2014 is titled “CTRL+ALT+Believe: Rebooting Thoughts and Inspiring Action in Your Organization.

  • Boardsource Leadership Forum
  • About

    BoardSource is dedicated to advancing the public good by building exceptional nonprofit boards and inspiring board service. BoardSource strives to support and promote excellence in board service, is the premier source of cutting-edge thinking and resources related to nonprofit boards, and engages and develops the next generation of board leaders.

    To learn more visit www.boardsource.org
  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Topics

  • Archives

  • Connect

  • © Copyright 2014 BoardSource | 750 9th Street, NW, Suite 650 | Washington, DC 20001-4793
    Phone: (202) 349-2500 or 877-89BOARD (877) 892-6273 | Fax (202) 349-2599

  • Please note: “Exceptional Boards” is committed to facilitating meaningful conversations about nonprofit governance and nonprofit sector issues and welcomes guest bloggers and reader comment. As a result, the viewpoints expressed here do not necessarily represent those of BoardSource, nor can we endorse the accuracy or reliability of any content linked from this blog.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 488 other followers