Who’s driving the bus?


When I was in the second grade my family moved to a new home on the outskirts of town. This change resulted in me being the farthest from my school. Consequently, I was the first to be picked up and the last to be dropped off from the school bus.

Naturally, given this new reality, I learned, like the back of my hand, our bus route, every stop.  Whenever there was a substitute bus driver, I had to sit behind him or her and guide them through the route, sharing every shortcut and advising who would be late to their stop and how to avoid pitfalls that came with going on the “main” roads.

What relevance does this have to non-profits or better yet, board governance?

The reality was that as a “director”, I was serving the main driver and everyone on that particular bus.  I wasn’t driving the bus, but rather guiding the person who was ultimately responsible.

The driver.

While I may have “directed” the driver, they were the ones who were ultimately responsible to get the bus to the correct destination, on time and safely!  I was there to advise and direct, not tell the bus driver “how” to drive but help in the execution.

Board members have a responsibility to do just that!

They are NOT to take over the wheel but direct. They are NOT to sit in the back of the bus and yell where to go but to engage and assist, sharing the pitfalls of the journey ahead.

Too often, Board members don’t know this role and want to take the steering wheel. Like the story suggests, however, it is not their wheel to assume responsibility for, that is the job of the driver in your organization–for example, the CEO or Executive Director.

Board members often want to get involved in the day to day and operational matters of the organization.

That is NOT the role of the Board member.

Board members are there to ensure vision and strategy and provide support, philanthropically and otherwise to the CEO/ED.

So, as a Board member, embrace the role of Director, which literally means to direct.

As a CEO/ED, make sure the right people are sitting behind or next to you, firmly place your hands on the wheel and drive with confidence and knowledge that it is up to you to advance the mission of your organization and all that are involved.

by: Michael Bruni, Partner, HUB Philanthropic Solutions


Calling an Audible


One of my capital campaign clients recently met with a newer Board member to discuss their financial commitment to the campaign. We had a solid prep meeting in advance and all signs pointed towards a productive conversation. The Board member understood the purpose of the meeting when the date was scheduled and the team was optimistic that they would make an investment to support the initiative.

What’s the line again, “Man plans and God laughs”?

In advance of talking about any specific commitment, the plan was to ask the Board member if, due to their short tenure with the organization, they were comfortable discussing a multi-year campaign pledge. Turns out, the Board member was in no way ready to make a commitment and, in fact, came into the meeting with a much different agenda.

The Board member made it clear from the start of the meeting that they didn’t feel engaged and that they were only interested in serving if they could contribute in a meaningful way. No questions, this was not meant to be a solicitation meeting.

Because we had thoroughly prepared for the discussion – including covering a range of potential objections – the team admirably shifted gears on the spot. They listened to and acknowledged the Board member’s concerns, discussed how to leverage the individual’s experience and interests, and committed to partnering together to make the relationship work for everyone moving forward. At the end of the meeting, the Board member said they absolutely planned to make an investment in the campaign–they just preferred to take that step when it was coming from a place of enthusiasm and not obligation.

Almost two years ago, I shared a post about how important it is to invest time in the relationships we have with our Board members — Attention Must Be Paid. There’s no question that those ideas are relevant to and validated by this situation as well.

However, the other key take-away in this situation is how important it is to come into donor meetings with an open mind and a nimble attitude. While there are times when we can help to move our donors in a desired direction, we HAVE to commit to listening to their needs and focusing on their agenda. After all, our main objective as fundraisers should always be on helping our donors achieve their goals and, if we aren’t ready to listen and act accordingly, no one wins.

If you’ve had an experience with a donor throwing a big curve at you in a meeting, we’d love to hear about it. We’ll share some of the stories and positive outcomes in a later post.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Clarity Matters



All too often, when clients share their concerns with us, they lament about the performance of their Board members. Their discontent is manifest in a variety of ways, but more often than not we hear things like:

My Board never seems to come to meetings prepared, if they come at all.”

 They don’t follow through when I need them to?

Why aren’t they giving at the levels we need?

Just the other day, I was speaking with an executive director about her Board president and, while she said she knows her president is committed to the organization, her ongoing frustration relates to a lack of action. So I asked, “Is there a straight forward set of expectations for your president that you can both reference and discuss?” Does your president understand an on what you are relying on her for?

I also recently asked one of my clients if they had clear expectations for Board members and if there was a protocol in place to discuss/review those with prospective and current members. (Based on some feedback we had received regarding an upcoming campaign initiative, it was evident that Board and staff were not operating from a shared set of expectations.)

I have written in the past about how we can and must invest in building strong relationships with our Board members (“Attention Must be Paid”) and, while that is absolutely true, there is also a great deal of value in making sure that our Board members have clarity as to what is expected and needed from them to help advance your mission. If everyone isn’t operating from the same playbook, and those responsible don’t have a clear understanding of their specific roles, you are ultimately leaving your success to chance.

The good news is that establishing clearly defined roles and responsibilities for your Board members is not complicated.

  • Depending on the size and structure of your Board; your governance committee, executive committee or even your chair/president and one or two other interested Board members can help you to develop criteria appropriate to you organization.
  • Board members must be involved in this process to ensure that there is ownership of the stated expecations.
  • While not an exhaustive list, your expectations should include: terms of service, meeting and special event attendance, committee service, financial support, fundraising and other ambassador roles.

Once your expectations have been approved by the board, or reaffirmed if you have them already–as it is a good idea to revisit these every couple of years, the key is to make sure that someone (Board Chair, Governance Committee Chair, Exec. Dir.) meets with each Board member on an annual basis. This provides an opportunity for the Board member to share any of their concerns, to discuss additional ways in which they think they could contribute to the organization and to make sure that the relationship is mutually beneficial.

If you have had any compelling experiences with your Board Expectations, we’d love to hear about them and share your thoughts and ideas in a future post.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

A Message of Thanks!


As we near the close of the fiscal year, we development folks are often busy wrapping up loose ends, finalizing budgets for the new fiscal year as well as sending out just one more appeal or special mailing or e-blast to donors and friends.  While all of this is important and keeps us busy and on our toes, I’d like to propose adding just one more thing to your early summer to-do list…and that is, send a note of thanks to each board member and other special volunteers.

For many, summer tends to be a little slower paced, with folks taking time for a vacation or a weekend getaway…or maybe even a day off for a ball game, a concert or a day at the beach.  Wouldn’t it be nice for your board members and volunteers – key investors and leaders of your organizations – to come home to find not another to-do, or something they need to respond to or a request for help in their mailbox…but a simple note of gratitude waiting for them?

I was recently at a meeting and someone remarked on how nice it was to receive a handwritten note.  I heard the person say…”it felt so genuine…it wasn’t an email!…it made me feel great that they took the time to write to me!”

I promise you…it’s simple, this doesn’t take a huge amount of time, and your effort will not go unnoticed.

Some ideas…

  • Handwrite the note…keep it short and sweet…just tell them how much you appreciate their time work and energy to help your organization fulfill its mission.
  • Send a photo of a grateful client with a simple message…we appreciate you…you helped make this happen.
  • Share a win…a grant proposal awarded, a record number of clients served…whatever it may be. Tell your board member or volunteer that this would not be possible without their leadership and support.

The idea is simple…the message is simple.  But, this effort can go along way with our volunteer leaders.  It tells them that you are appreciative of their work…that you noticed…that you care.  So, pour yourself a tall glass of lemonade, turn on some tunes and start writing your notes!    Have a wonderful summer!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Seasoned and Green


Is your current Board comprised of established members – constituents who have been a part of your organization for a decade or longer?  Over the past few weeks, I have found myself in conversation with several non-profit leaders where this topic has been raised.  The consistent concerns are twofold:

  1. How do we continue to engage this important (and aging) group; and
  2. How do we attract and engage the “next generation” of leaders?

Let’s take the first group first.  Obviously, it is important to continue to recognize and thank your faithful leaders.  But it is also important to read their cues.  In other words, do you have a Board member who is getting tired?  Is he/she hinting that it may be time to take a less active role with the organization?  The best approach is simply to have a conversation with this person.  Invite him/her for coffee or lunch and listen.  Ask open-ended questions.  Find out how they would like to stay engaged and informed.

If your organization does not have one, perhaps you should consider creating an Advisory Council or a President’s Council.  Designed to meet the needs of your organization and a select group of constituents, this type of “board” typically meets only once a year for lunch and a “state of the organization”-type presentation.  In addition, the members of this Council may be consulted occasionally for advice or assistance.  This arrangement is typically a “win-win” for members and the organization alike.

It is equally important to “listen” to the senior Board members who want to continue to be active and engaged.  Unfortunately, I have seen active Board members forced to “resign” to a role as a Life Trustee – or something less meaningful – as a way to open a Board spot for someone else.  This can be a big mistake, as some may take offense and become less engaged, both with their time and their resources.

In terms of attracting the “next generation” – it is also important to listen and understand what type of volunteer work they are interested in and what role they may want to play with the organization.  It’s typically a good idea to find more entry level roles for younger constituents – perhaps they can help with a benefit or serve on a Junior Board.  This helps both the volunteer and the organization get acquainted before making a potentially bigger commitment, such as a Board role.  It is also fun to identify and cultivate family members – children or other relatives of Board members or volunteers –  as they typically have a good understanding of the mission and may be interested in developing a relationship with the organization as well.

In any of these scenarios, it is often just a matter of observing, asking good questions – and truly listening to the needs and interests of your constituents.  Which simply translates into good development.

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Make it Personal



When new members join nonprofit Boards, one of the first things we ask of them is to identify friends, family and work colleagues with the hope of expanding our donor base, right?

But do their contacts really develop into the active supporters we hope they will?

With my current client, I noticed they weren’t….so we developed a strategy to improve our communication to them.

Here’s what we did.

Recognizing that it is our job to educate these folks about the mission of our organization before they are asked for a gift, we mailed an introductory letter to the new prospects. The letter introduced the mission, and described their friend’s new role as Board member.  It requested the recipient’s blessing to continue to share information with them about their friend’s new nonprofit venture.  The board member signed the letters and mailed them in a plain envelope that had the board member’s home address as the sender.  It looked very personal.

Then, once each month for the next two months, we provided this board member with brief mission-specific success stories about a participant in our program.  They mailed these to the same individuals with a brief personal one line message.

Finally, our holiday appeal dropped. These too, went with a personal note from the Board member. Now, this group of individuals had a personal tie with the mission, had been educated about the great work we do, and were invited to contribute. The client is already seeing the results from this early education and cultivation, and received a $500 gift.

If your nonprofit plans to add Board members in 2017, consider integrating this strategy. Remember, we must educate, and cultivate before we ask for support.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Fall is coming…are you ready for year-end?


Many of us had big plans for the summer.  No, I’m not talking about the trip to the lake or the summer vacation to the west…I’m talking about plans for the year end appeal that we intended to finalize but we got a smidge railroaded with other projects and it just didn’t quite make the cut.

Now is the time…write your letter (short – some experts now say 2 paragraphs max, compelling, pictures, infographics, etc.) and get your Board behind it.  Say you have a Board of 15 members…ask each one to write notes on 5 current donor letters.  Need more donors?  A great source is from your Board…ask each member for 5 new names to include and have them write a personal note on those as well.  Engagement of the Board is critical for your annual appeal…and, it’s pretty easy!  You do the legwork and make it easy for the Board to complete this important task. Drop the letters off at their office or home mail box for signature.  Provide them with sample notes to write at the bottom of each letter.  The bottom line…it’s our job to make it easy and effortless for our Board members.

One of my recent clients recruited 10 members from the community to just serve as the year end appeal committee.  The Board still did their part, but, the ad hoc committee was given one simple task.  Attend two meetings – the first one, provide names of 15 new potential donors and write notes on these letters.  The last meeting, attend a gathering in January with the committee and Board to celebrate the success of their efforts.  Sometimes folks want to help but have little time to fully commit to a Board or a steady volunteer position.  By engaging other members of the community, this agency was able to build its donor base across the years with the help of new folks to serve in this efficient and easy way.

Finally, once the gifts start rolling in, don’t forget to thank and thank and thank!  An email to the Board member is essential when one of their friends or neighbors makes a gift.  While an official thank you letter goes out from the not for profit, it’s important for the Board member to personally thank their friends as well.  Maybe it’s an email, a call, or a handwritten note they choose to send.  You can even make this easy for your Board members by sending them sample thank you note language that they can easily personalize and make their own.

When you engage your Board members and other friends of your not for profit at year-end, I promise, the fruits of your labor and your extra steps to involve them will pay off!

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Term Limits for Nonprofit Boards: Best Practice?

Best practice pinned on noticeboard

Nonprofit boards often ask us about “best practice” regarding term limits. Some wonder whether they’re required by law to institute them. Others simply want to know what policy is considered the gold standard.

Truth be told, there is no law, nor best practice, to which an organization must adhere. In fact, the cases for and against term limits are equally valid. We recommend a board consider the pros and cons, as well as the character and composition of its board, and make its own decision about whether term limits are essential to the board’s governance function.

Take these two differing opinions: one client told us, “term limits are essential to the functioning of our board. We have a strict two-term limit, for a total of six years of service. We get committed, energetic members who rotate on and off regularly.”

Yet another, similar organization said: “term limits? No way. Don’t believe in them. Never have. We believe a strong board governance and nominating committee can help members decide ‘when it is time to move on.’”

The “Pros:” Let’s consider the arguments in favor of term limits. Certainly, being assured of new directors on a regular basis means fresh insight and new skill sets as well as access to new networks of people. And, rotation on and off of a board lessens the likelihood that a board becomes tired and loses vitality.

The “Cons”: On the other hand, rotating members off opens up the potential for loss of institutional memory and potential loss of dedicated donors and volunteers.

What does the IRS think? The IRS offers nothing formal – there are no state nor federal laws mandating nonprofit board term limits. If pressed, the IRS would say it leans toward having limits, on the grounds that a board with static membership might be prone to adopting unhealthy insider attitudes, and begin to govern out of self-interest rather than for the good of the organization.

One thing we should all agree on: all board members must be elected for a specific term in office – usually two or three years. Having a specified term allows a board to graciously move unproductive members off. Likewise, it offers members wanting to leave, for any reason, a graceful exit.

Should your board decide to impose term limits, it must carefully consider how many consecutive terms it will permit. Most organizations with term limits allow for 2-3 terms, meaning members can serve for 6-9 years. Having a board member serve for up to nine years can help the organization benefit from mature judgment and institutional knowledge.

Some organizations, worried about losing dedicated members, especially during critical times, offer options for extended service. Some boards have a provision in their bylaws allowing for an extension of service for 1-2 additional years, with approval of the board. Others offer outgoing members the opportunity to serve as ad-hoc committee members. Still others allow board members to return to service after taking a specified hiatus.

Clearly, every board must decide for itself whether term limits are essential to good Governance, and thus an engaged, committed group of members.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

It’s Time to Get on Board



by David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Yes, it’s spring break season and – for some lucky folks – you’ll undoubtedly be hearing a boarding call for your vacation travels.  However, I am referencing the species of board that we all engage with throughout the year–the non-profit board.

In addition to the involvement with your own board as part of your day job, are you currently serving on another non-profit board? If so, that’s terrific and hopefully this post will reinforce why your involvement is so important.  And, if you are not currently serving in such a capacity, my hope is that you will consider changing that reality.

I completely understand that some might be inclined to say, “Really? I spend my days in the non-profit arena and already have enough work to do when it comes to my own board.” This is probably true in one regard, but I would offer that, in taking such a stance, you’re likely missing the bigger picture.

So, why exactly should you make it a priority to serve on a non-profit board?

Here are a few key benefits to signing up to serve on a board:

  • Organizations in our community’s social impact sector are always looking for skilled and committed board members. By offering your experience/perspective in a volunteer capacity, you offer a truly valuable resource that will help to advance their mission.
  • Not only are we all called to “give back” to the best of our ability, but let’s face it, if we’re going to “talk the talk” with our own board members, we need to be prepared to “walk the walk.”
  • Serving on a board will provide you with key insights that are unique to being on the other side of the table. I can attest to the fact that my personal board service has, on many occasions, helped me to better understand and motivate my board.
  • You will gain exposure to new and creative ideas while also building new peer-to-peer connections with like-minded leaders.
  • And last, but not least, giving our time (our most precious resource) to make a difference in the lives of others will simply make you feel good. It will feed you in ways that few other endeavors can.

So, in this season of new beginnings, maybe it’s the perfect time for you to get on board with this special type of service. It may not feel like a tropical get-a-way, but I guarantee you will be thrilled to have taken the ride.


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.

Board Engagement – How engaged are they? Do you have a plan?   

board of directors 2

by Tim Kennedy, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

As we head into the holiday season, I often ask myself how engaged am I in the season? Am I focused on the importance of it all and the true meaning? Or do I find myself getting caught up in the numerous parties, the celebratory lunches, the gift buying and gift getting? I think it’s important to ask the same question when working and dealing with non-profit boards. How engaged are you with the board?  How engaged are they with the organization?

Whether it’s the Program Committee, the Fundraising Committee or the Finance Committee – board engagement is crucial in furthering your mission, generating revenue, serving the fiduciary role and keeping the mission of the organization thriving and in good standing for years to come.

While we all know that an engaged board is a more fruitful board, we can’t expect that to happen on its own. It’s incumbent on the leaders of the organization to be focused on board engagement and have a disciplined, proactive strategy. However, this shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the Executive Director – everyone has a role to play to ensure a strong board. And we need to be constantly posing the questions of are we truly growing and preparing the organization for the next Board?

So how do we “engage the board successfully” and how do we keep them engaged? Here are four strategies on how to do it:

  1. Develop a strategic plan for maintaining active board participation
    • Understand why each member is on the board, what they bring to the organization and maximize their expertise.
    • Be purposeful in your cultivation of each relationship.
  1. Have a clear ask and defined role
    • Be specific about the role and responsibility for the board as a whole and each member.
    • Set up one-on-one conversations to answer any questions and offer any support needed so that each member can be successful.
  1. Create a communications plan for this stakeholder group
  • Establish a calendar of communication and explain the cadence so the members know what to expect when. That said, be flexible if something needs to be communicated in real time.
  • Remember you are the expert in this industry – board members will appreciate proactive communication about the industry and education of the latest trends, data and information.
  • Always be transparent – even when communicating difficult news.
  • Avoid surprises – try to get in front of any potential issues with the board so that they do not hear about something second-hand.
  1. Create a Culture of Ownership
  • Engage board members in the planning process so there is a sense of ownership. This will allow for better understanding and awareness of the goals, objectives and deliverables. This also helps with creating a sense of accountability.

As we close out the year and host final board meetings for 2015, let’s remember the importance of board engagement to your mission. Take a moment to thank current members and set aside time to develop the right strategic plan for a successful engaged board in 2016.