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What are ways a Board of Directors can support fundraising without asking for money? How do you properly set expectations with your board? Why wont the board fundraise???
That's what we’re wine-ing and whining about on this inaugural episode with Tony Martignetti of Nonprofit Radio, the longest running podcast in the nonprofit sector. He'll share the strategies and approaches he’s seen most effective in getting board member participation in fundraising for the organization.
Grab a glass & press play, or read some of the transcription below.
(2:13 - 3:15) How often do you hear “My board doesn’t fundraise” and what does that mean to you in terms of expectations vs reality?
(3:17 - 5:38) What’s the best way in form to set expectations with a board of directors?
(5:50 - 8:40) Why do you think there is such a disconnect between board membership and fundraising?
(9:07 - 11:17) #NonprofitQuestions What high-impact intervention strategies have you seen shift the expectations of the board?
(11:30 - 12:23) #NonprofitQuestions Can a board be too big or too small?(12:26 - 13:07) #NonprofitQuestions What is the biggest driver that affects the size of the board?
Rachel Renock (RR):Hey everyone! I’m Rachel Renock, I am a co-founder and also the CEO of a company called Wethos. We build collaborative freelance teams for the world-changing nonprofit sector. I want to welcome everybody today to our brand new Wine and Whine podcast. This is actually our first show, so we’re really excited for what we have for everybody today!
I think you can all sort of disseminate what that means. Knitting was obviously involved.
Today we are whining with an awesome guest - Tony Martignetti. He’s from Nonprofit Radio which is actually the longest-running podcast in the nonprofit sector, pretty incredible.
Tony, I'm super excited to tap into your knowledge. You have a wealth of background in the space, and in particular on today’s topic: board membership and fundraising.
Just so everybody knows too, before we dive in, we do these podcasts short-form so we can kind of cut the fluff and we can go ahead and dive right into questions.
Tony we’re super excited to have you. How are you doing today?
Tony Martignetti (TM):
I’m great Rachel, thank you very much. Honestly, I'd rather be a part of “Bitch and Stitch” than “Wine and Whine”.
Yeah, me too!
I know this is your inaugural but I like “Bitch and Stitch” better, I’m sorry.
Our name is not nearly as clever if you ask me.
To honor your grandmother, I'm going to join you with a glass of Chianti.
Great. That's perfect, I think Chianti is actually the perfect brand for what we’re about to talk about today about which is definitely the board.
I’ve had my fair share of experience being a founder in the startup world but we hear a lot of differently challenges from nonprofit professionals at Wethos as it pertains to the board.
(2:13 - 3:15) RR: I’m curious how many times you’ve heard, “My board doesn’t fundraise” when your working with nonprofits. How often do you hear that and what does that mean to you in terms of expectations vs reality?
In eight years of Nonprofit Radio, I know I’ve heard that hundreds of times (some examples). It’s just a common problem. Board relations generally can be difficult but the biggest pain I hear a lot is with fundraising. What does it mean? It could mean you, at the organization, did not set the expectations correctly when you we’re recruiting your board - could be your board is not meeting the expectations you did set. Maybe you set expectations that were not appropriate for individual board members. There’s a lot more to fundraising than asking people for money.
(3:17 - 5:38) RR: Right. A lot people tend to learn that the hard way. I’m curious, with setting expectations, what does that sort of look like in practice? Does that mean a written document, a verbal conversation? What’s the best way in form to set expectations that will make sense with everybody?
A written document. That’s universal. Do you have the board members sign it -- I’ve heard both sides of that coin, but the expectations of board members should definitely be in writing, and shared! The board members should get a copy of those expectations.
This is what nonprofit organizations should include for expectations in a written document:
“You will participate in fundraising”
Include a definition of fundraising. What does fundraising mean to your organization in terms of dollars, bringing their network in, hosting events, and now we’re getting into some of the stuff I was ticking off earlier.
“You are expected to attend this many meetings”
90% of meetings or is 50% enough? Is joining by phone count as joining the meeting?
“You agree to this commitment level”
Is this a 5/HR month commitment or 20/HR month commitment?
“You agree to stay with the board for this term”
In my experience, it’s also great to set expectations for the board on what they can expect from you, and the organization. That helps it feel like more of a collaborative effort, like everyone is involved and has more skin in the game. That way, you don’t feel like you’re just making a list of demands but you are just setting expectations for the working relationship.
(5:50 - 8:40) Why do you think there is such a disconnect between board membership and fundraising?
There are a lot of people who are uncomfortable asking for money face-to-face and there are a lot of nonprofit professionals that don’t realize that there is more that a board member can do aside from asking, i.e direct solicitation. When, actually, there are a lot of other things that can be suggested by the organization besides direct asks.
People want to feel useful at the end of the day, right. They are there to help and that is their tension. I think if you don’t give people the proper vehicles to provide help to you or be useful to you then that’s when they can start go rogue. A lot of times then, they can bring something to the table or deliver something that maybe you didn’t need or is a little off-base and that puts you in an even more uncomfortable position.
Or just as bad, they decide they want to leave the board after a year of a three year term. They’re bored, they haven’t been engaged -- we need to overcome this fear of asking people to do “too much”. People will tell you if you’re asking them to do too much. They won’t tell you if you’re not asking them to do enough, I don’t think.
I totally agree. I think for women, it’s hard to ask for help and especially hard to ask for money. I think the worst thing that can happen is just getting a “no” and really, you can get over that pretty quickly. I think that fear of being looked at, asking for too much, not being grateful for what they have provided or sort of that rabbit-hole mentality that I think a lot of women tend to go down is challenging. At the end of the day, the worst thing that can happen is a “no”. The best thing that can happen is a “yes”! That’s when you can start to get your grips on things, and you’ll find people can actually be pretty useful.
Now I want to address some questions that came from our nonprofit community, I think these are are really great. Sara wanted to ask about having a long-standing, existing board that isn’t used to fundraising / hasn’t been asked before. Sometimes for her, it can feel like you are trying to move this mountain. It can take a really long time -- rightfully so, because it’s just the dynamic that was set-up originally. But [her organization] is trying to get money in the door now.
(9:07 - 11:17) RR: What high-impact intervention strategies have you seen shift the expectations of the board?
First thing, Sara, as you go forward: do set the expectations for the board in the ways Rachel and I outlined earlier.
For where you are right now, I would find out who on your board is willing to do what around fundraising. We’ve talked about a bunch of different things that you can let people participate in at the level they’re comfortable with. If people are on the fence about this? They can go with someone, i.e pair together two board members, one board member that’s comfortable with fundraising and one who is not. They can work together on cultivating a collection of prospects. One board member can be coached and mentored to see how it goes and what the process is. I think that team approach may be helpful. Only watch out: I wouldn’t set someone up for this who is adamantly against asking for money. There are other things that person can do.
Make it so easy for them (laughs). I’ve found at least when I’m trying to ask my advisors for really anything, the easier I can make it for them to participate -- the better. So the more you can kind of put it on a silver plate and just hand it to them, like “hey, here is how we want you to fundraise” and just make it very clear, actionable, and easy. This can help to get them on-board a bit faster then just a general request, like “hi board, I think we need to transition into a new set-up where you guys are helping us fundraise”.
The clearer you can make sense of what that means for them, the easier time you’ll have in moving that mountain.
Jessica also had an interesting question, that I think actually pertains to startups as well, which I always find that cross-over interesting.
(11:30 - 12:23) RR: Jessica wants to know about board size and if the size of the board should reflect the size of the organization. Can a board be too big or too small?
I think that is very organizational specific. I can’t say an optimal size but I do think the board should reflect the diversity of the community so there aren’t a bunch of middle aged white men preaching policy and strategy to an organization that’s working in a much more diverse community. In that respect, it should be a [direct] reflection. I think it would be wrong to say the optimal size should be “x”.
(12:26 - 13:07) RR: What is the biggest driver that affects the size of the board? Is it like areas in which the organization needs the most help? How have you seen boards come together, large or small?
It’s maturity of the organization. How much work are you doing? How many programs areas do you have? I mean, a start-up board could very well just be 3-5 people but as the organization matures, it needs different levels [and types] of expertise. That’s when I can see a board growing, and that’s when it becomes more individual.
I think that makes a lot of sense. [At Wethos], and smaller startups in the past, a lot of is identifying where our unknowns are and then figuring out who in our network could either support in those areas or introduce us to somebody who might have something to say in that area.
I also have found that a great rule of thumb, that I learned from another entrepreneur, is to work with somebody for three months before you sign any paperwork with them. There can be some vultures out there so it’s easy to sort of get wrapped up in a big name or big credential but [really] they aren’t providing that much actual help. We don’t make anyone an advisor until they have worked with us and proven that capacity because that’s sort of the worst position to get in.
Big names, big personalities -- be careful of those. They can big trouble for your board. They can be an outside personality, they can start bullying people around, they can start taking disproportionate share of time in meetings (including agenda setting), they can really be contentious. Maybe you took them because they have a big name or because they have a lot of meeting but you have to be careful in considering if you are going to take that step.
I totally agree, sometimes they can more trouble than they’re worth in the end.
That concludes our first show. Thank you so much Tony! If anyone wants to expand on any of these topics, they can go ahead over to http://tonymartignetti.com. Tony has a breadth of really amazing knowledge in there that you’ll find very useful. Tony, is there anything you want to close out with? What's 1 thing somebody new nonprofits should know about forming a board?
Set those expectations in advance. Have lots of conversations! You can learn more about Nonprofit Radio at http://tonymartignetti.com, it's the most listened to, longest-running podcast. We have 13,000 listeners each week.