What Nonprofit Boards Can Learn
from Penelope Burk
by Nathan Garber
being a fundraiser, I didn't know who Penelope Burk was when I arrived at
the November breakfast meeting of the London Regional Fundraising
Executives, but her 60 minute talk was well worth my annual membership fee.
Penelope Burk is the author of "Donor-Centered Fundraising" and President of
Cygnus Applied Research, Inc., a research-based fundraising consulting
research was both innovative and compelling in that it went to directly to
donors to find out what would keep them involved and enhance their
commitment to their organizations.
many interviews with donors, she learned that only 20% want public
recognition. 80% do not. What most donors want are three things:
to be thanked
promptly with some form of meaningful acknowledgement;
to be reassured that
their donation would be used for the purpose they intended; and
to receive a report
on the results of their last gift before they are asked for the next one.
told Burk that the amount of their donation is based primarily on what the
organization asks for, and is frequently much less than they are willing and
able to give. The message was clear -- by asking for more, you may get fewer
donors but you will get more money.
findings relate closely to my own views about recruiting and retaining board
members. I have been advocating for several years, now, that we apply to
board recruitment the same approach we use in cultivating major gifts. For
organizations that do not seek major donors, Iíll explain what I mean.
but the most miraculous circumstances, obtaining a major gift is the result
of a long process to build a relationship of trust and understanding. In
this process, the donor is offered a range of opportunities to help the
organization achieve its vision. Through this process, the organization
provides the donor with the assurance that there is a good match between the
organization's goals and the donor's intent, that the organization is
trustworthy, and that the donor will be satisfied that the donation will
achieve its intended results.
Organizations that seek support from major donors recognize that they must
allocate resources to finding and cultivating relationships with people who
share their vision and have the potential to help the organization achieve
very different than the way most organizations develop board members.
nonprofit organizations, a nominating committee is formed, sometimes only
weeks before the Annual General Meeting. Their first attempts usually
involve searching their address books and memories for the names of
neighbours, workmates, acquaintances, distant relatives, and other living
humans who might be imposed upon to show up occasionally at a board meeting
and wave a hand when a vote is called. -- ď Would you be interested in
joining the board? It wonít be too much work. Just one meeting a month?Ē
leaving recruitment too late and by asking too little, the nominating
committee sends a clear message that the work of the board is not important.
any wonder that we get what we ask for?
findings also help to explain why it is hard to retain our best board
members. The work done by most boards doesnít provide what people need to
stay motivated and committed. Board members donít get enough reassurance
that they are advancing the mission of the organization . Neither do they
get enough feedback on the results of the organizationís work. Poring over
financial statements and listening to committee reports does not provide
enough reason to feel that they are getting good results for their
investment of time. On the contrary, it makes them feel that their time
would be better spent reorganizing their kitchen cupboards.
volunteers, board members have the same expectations as donors. To attract
those who can be most helpful to our organizations, we need to apply the
same principles to board development and donor recruitment. Here are six
steps that will help you to recruit better directors, strengthen your
boards, and keep board members engaged.
Donít count on
personal loyalty and friendships to guide your recruitment. Invest in some
prospect research to identify individuals with a history of commitment to
the issues you address and/or clients you serve.
Once you have found
them, get them involved at the starting level they want. Ask them what
would interest them? Offer them an opportunity to learn about your
organization and the excellent work it does. Begin with a tour of the
agency, a periodic newsletter, an invitation to participate in a committee
project, or a request for advice based upon their knowledge or skills.
Build their commitment before inviting them to join the board.
Take a long-range
view of board development. Keep good records of who has been approached,
what they might offer, how they responded, and what follow-up has
occurred. Having established a relationship, keep strengthening it.
When make the
invitation to join the board, keep in mind that almost nobody joins a
board because they want to come to more meetings. They join so they can
help you achieve your vision for your clients, members, or community. Plan
your orientation and meeting agendas so they provide opportunities to
learn about the value of your work.
Remember that each
director brings different skills, knowledge, and experience to the board.
Each director needs to be able to contribute his or her unique perspective
to the planning and decision-making process. Evaluate your meetings and
ask directors how their role can be made more meaningful.
When people leave
the board, donít let them leave the organization. Keep them involved
through the same methods you used to cultivate their interest. When they
provide advice, or work on a project, remember Burkís findings. Make sure
they are thanked promptly, reassured as to how their contribution will
help fulfill your mission, and given a report on the results before you
ask them to take on another project.
donors don't come out of the woodwork. Neither do great board members. By
applying donor development practices to board development, you will increase
the likelihood of finding and retaining great board members.
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