How to Have Your Board Members Begging to Come Back
Russell, my husband and business partner who primarily works for the camping and retreat ministries of the United Methodist Church, made an off-hand comment in the car the other day. He mentioned that he was about to go do exit interviews with two of his board members who had completed their terms and rotated off the board and that both of them, in setting up the appointments, had said that they missed serving on the board so much, they hardly knew what to do. Imagine, having board members dying to come back on board!
On his way to interview them, I gave him some questions to ask so that we could all gain some insight about factors contribute to their board service being such positive experiences. This is what he learned from these interviews about what they felt was important to creating a great board culture:
In the nonprofit sector, we nonprofit professionals apply for positions in the nonprofit sector. We have experience with nonprofit jobs. Because we’re nonprofit professionals with nonprofit experience, applying for nonprofit jobs, we assume that the people who are reviewing our resumes understand what our titles and positions mean and entail. They don’t. Even if we list our accomplishments, they don’t get it. Too often, board members are hiring or sitting on the search committees that hire us. Those board members are almost always business people who don’t understand what’s involved in our jobs.
Nonprofit Board members are unprepared to govern. That’s the finding of the 2015 Survey on Board of Directors of Nonprofit Organizations, a study released in April jointly conducted by Guidestar, BoardSource, and the Stanford Business School.
What remedies would we pursue if we were to view the breakdowns in our systems of nonprofit governance as failures of the early stages of team building rather than as the [later] results of process and outcomes failures?
Early requests for sponsorship support were disappointing. One company’s response was typical, “How come, if you’ve been serving the community for 23 years, we’ve never heard of you before?”
Not promising as far as beginnings of sponsorship campaigns go.
The organization needed to re-introduce itself to the community. We decided to hold a Corporate Breakfast.
Many organizations have some sort of Advisory Councils. But often these councils, populated largely with former board members or community dignitaries that don’t have time to be board members, languish, largely neglected by the very organizations that have created them. They often have no clear purpose and meet infrequently.
But that doesn’t have to be the case.
For the last several years, the idea of donor retention has been much discussed. Thought leaders like Adrian Sargeant, Penelope Burk, Jay Love and so many others including those associated with the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, have urged us to improve our stewardship practices telling us that donor attrition will rates will never improve if we don’t continue to improve our stewardship practices. As a result, we’ve all worked harder to acknowledge gifts in a more timely fashion, more sincerely, and more creatively with mixed results. We’ve also worked to be more creative and faithful about reporting back to our donors about the impact of their gifts, again, with mixed results. Reports on our practices continue to find uneven practices with some of us acknowledging gifts swiftly, others slowly, and still others, not at all.
In the years that we have spent talking about donor stewardship and its importance for donor retention, little seems to have changed. In fact, if anything, donor retention rates have continued their downward spiral and the problem has gotten worse.
Why has it been so difficult to make head-way on this problem? Why has it been so hard to turn the ship around on these issues?