| I’ve been on nonprofit boards, and I’ve also been on staff. Staff usually think first, of what will pacify boards. Second, they ponder how they can get boards to do useful work.
All too rarely do staff ask themselves, “What do board members want? How can we make serving on our board an experience that people will prize, and never forget?”
The great advantage of June Bradham‘s book The Truth about What Nonprofits Boards Want is that it places board members front and center. By interviewing current and former board members at several large nonprofits, she finds out what makes them resign from boards and what makes them stay.
At the end of the book, I was wondering about these questions:
Do you have an answer for any of those questions?
What if joining a nonprofit’s Board meant doing things you love?
Hildy Gottlieb thinks that’s what it should mean. If you’re on a nonprofit Board of Directors and find fundraising next to impossible, run out and get her book Friendraising: Community Engagement Strategies for Boards Who Hate Fundraising but Love making Friends (2nd edition). You’ll be glad!
Very few of us find it a thrill to ask people for money (and they are mostly on staff, not on the Board). But many of us like to:
- Learn more about how our favorite organization changes lives
- Have coffee with a friend and catch up on what we’re doing
- Write a letter to the editor
- Interview a local leader about community needs
- Have a party!
We in the nonprofit sector sometimes shy away from the things we love. We have the puritanical attitude that if we’re having fun, we must not be doing the right thing. It’s time to get over that–for ourselves and for our our Boards.
The 89 strategies that Hildy suggests in Friendraising are not frills. They are necessities! Each of these enjoyable activities is also vital for building the relationships that bring you suggestions, volunteers, partners, and money.
The book includes brainstorm sheets that will help Board members think of people–and not just “rich people”–they could be turning into friends of the organization, and sample questions to ask. It also offers many charming examples from Hildy’s own experience creating the first Diaper Bank in the country. Her stories will inspire you and show you that you, too, can strengthen your organization by doing the things you love.
If you’re an Executive Director or a Development Director, you can use it to help your Board members become excited, active, and proud. Then “the ask” will be up to you, and it will be easy…because you’ll be speaking to a friend.
One of the stories that nonprofits should know how to tell is what Andy Goodman calls the creation story. This story shares who started the organization, why it was started, and when it was started.
Your staff, Board, and membership can be informed and inspired by the story of “how we got here.” Here’s a creation story that made a difference to me.
When my wife and I came to Temple B’nai Brith in 1990, about half the members were retirees, in their 70’s and 80’s. The other half were people in their 30’s and early 40’s, with almost no one in between. The temple had existed since the early twentieth century, but by the time we arrived, the way it ran was so different, it was essentially a new organization.
We asked the younger generation, “How did you get involved in running a synagogue, in partnership with people old enough to be your parents?”
They told us:
We liked the people. We liked the building. We started spending time here on Saturday mornings. Eventually, the older generation came to us and said, “Look, we’re not getting any younger–you’re going to have to take over this synagogue.”
That came as a shock. It was surprising enough to some of us that we would even attend a synagogue–let alone run one!
The younger generation got together and decided we would present our elders with a demand they probably wouldn’t accept. We said, “If we take over this synagogue, we’re going to count women and men equally for all purposes. Ritual, membership, voting, you name it.”
The older folks thought a bit and said, “Well we’ve never done it that way before ….” (and we thought we were off the hook!)
And then they said “…but we know a lot of places are doing it that way now, and we know you young women will take it just as seriously as the men, so…okay. What else do you want?”
And we couldn’t think of anything else! So now, it’s our synagogue. And we love it.
Look at what this story told Rona and me about the organization we were joining.
- It’s based on friendships between people of different generations.
- Members run it.
- Members are committed to it.
- Egalitarian values steer it.
- Change is a part of its identity.
Because we knew the story, we knew what we were getting into: what we could expect and what was expected of us.
What’s your organization’s creation story? What does it tell the people who work there about why it exists and how they should act in the future?