by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions
While I have no hard data to prove this assumption, I would guess that if you asked 100 development and non-profit professionals to name their top five concerns/needs/complaints, in some form or fashion “Board Members” would appear on every single list.
Now clearly, much of this has to do with the challenging construct of having your organization’s success rely, to some degree, on your VIP volunteers. These are people who, by definition, have “day jobs” and/or other pressing concerns that you truly cannot compete with — regardless of their level of commitment to your mission. At the same time, without their full engagement, you will be hard pressed to successfully advance your work together.
One of my clients recently shared that he wants his staff to be more focused on “feeding others” than on “wanting to be fed,” because he knows that’s the energy needed if we want to engage and inspire people.
His comment rattled around in my head for a while until it got me thinking about the tendency to ask way more of our Board members than we are usually willing to offer them. When we “pay attention” to our Board members, is it the right kind of attention? In other words, are we making a real effort to get to know them and to build authentic relationships with them, or are we simply trying to leverage them to meet our needs?
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” Simone Weil
How much do you know about your Board members? Why do they serve? Is there something about your mission that is particularly important to them? Have you taken time to find out more about what’s going on in their lives – with their career, their families, their travels, even? Do you know what special interests they have or what activities they enjoy when they have free time? Do you know when their birthday is? These are exactly the kinds of things we know about the people we have meaningful relationships with and it is in our best interest to put the time and energy into learning these details about our Board members. After all, Board members are people too!
If we want people to invest in us, we have to invest in them first. As development professionals, we know this. The problem surfaces when we forget to honor this truth with our Board members. Just because they agreed to your Board expectations doesn’t mean that we don’t have an obligation to them and, more importantly, an opportunity to bring them into an even deeper relationship with our organization.
If you can answer most of the questions above about your Board members, congratulations and keep up the good work. If however, you know you have work to do in this regard, you no longer have to wait for an invitation to get busy paying attention to your Board – I just sent it to you.
Do you have any experiences in this realm that you’d like to share or have you run into any particular barriers in your past efforts? If so, please send them my way. I’d love to share more of your ideas in a future post.
David Gee is a seasoned development professional with particular expertise in capital campaigns, major gifts and donor stewardship. David joined the HUB Philanthropic Solutions team after serving as The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Development. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working as a professional actor in Chicago. Among his volunteer activities, David serves on Forefront’s Resource Development Committee, the Development Committee for All Chicago and as the Local School Council Chair at Beaubien Elementary School.