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The Balance of Power between Boards and Executive Directors: How to Share Authority

Section: Blog

by Guest Blogger, Katherine DeFoyd, Growth for Good

What constitutes a healthy relationship between an executive director and a board of directors? How can organizations strike a healthy balance of power? 

Most successful executive directors are entrepreneurial self-starters. They are mavericks. These characteristics inspire them to provide services to the world that the free market cannot provide, e.g., arts education, youth development, senior services, affordable healthcare. They lead lean organizations, with fewer resources than their for-profit counterparts. And while their “get it done” attitude is what makes them successful — unchecked, it can be a barrier to healthy board relations and organizational growth.

Executive directors often feel they do not have time to seek input from board members, thus making decisions in a vacuum. Board members are left asking themselves, “Why are we here?” When board members have minimal opportunity for meaningful input beyond basic legal and fiduciary oversight and fundraising, they lose interest, pull away and stop contributing energy, ideas and money. This disinterest further drives the executive director to act alone. We call this downward spiral the “Lone Ranger Syndrome.”

Healthy board and executive director relations come down to a thoughtful and inclusive planning processes and honest, ongoing communication of progress toward goals. As one executive director said, “You can’t build an airplane while you are flying.” Good planning must include an organization’s executive director/staff and board leadership. This includes all planning categories: strategic planning, fundraising planning, and event planning. Plans should not be expressed in a few PowerPoint slides with broad sweeping statements and visions of grandeur. Instead, plans should include:

  • Agreed upon, clearly defined goals
  • Time-bound, measurable objectives
  • Realistic budgets
  • Specific tasks
  • Well-defined roles & responsibilities

An inclusive planning process is time-consuming and less efficient than some executives would like. But it is essential that it include board and staff members so there is real buy-in with their responsibilities. By helping to set the vision, board and staff members are eager to do their best work.

Both formal and informal communication is essential to board and executive director cooperation. Board meetings are the forum to report on program progress, budgets, and to make governance decisions. Another executive director said, “Too many nonprofits only present a rosy picture to their board and sweep challenges under the rug.” Informal communication between board meetings among staff and board members is also critical. This builds trust. Staff members feel safe and can be frank about progress (or lack thereof) toward an objective. It also allows board members to become advocates and help offer solutions, find extra resources and use their executive intellectual skills to move the agenda.

We hope this advice helps your organization build a better board!


Tap into New Donors via Special Events

Section: Blog

When planning a fundraising event, it is easy to get buried in the details, of which there are many. But remember that an event is more than “just” an event. It is an opportunity to tap into hundreds of new donors. If you hyper-focus only on the event details and think only about existing donors, you are missing out on a tremendous amount of potential and an opportunity to build new relationships.

Think about it … 500 people in a room … a captive audience … all there with open ears, willing to hear your organization’s compelling message. What percent of guests are people in your donor base and what percent are completely new to your organization? These guests, friends of friends, individuals from sponsoring companies may have a personal connection to your cause. But you won’t know unless you connect to them.

Here are some ideas to maximize their potential impact to your organization:

  • Pre-event, run attendee names through an online donor research tool to determine which guests you want to seek out
  • At the event, be certain to capture contact information for guests, especially email addresses. Make sure check in staff is aware that this is a priority. You can even enlist a few floaters with iPads to unobtrusively approach guests for this information, tableside.
  • You may also be able to obtain this information if holding an auction or availing yourself of event pledging. Remember, many of your attendees have not personally laid out a penny to attend your event and may want the opportunity to donate. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.
  • Present giving opportunities that will appeal to people of every level. Often tickets get handed down the line and may end up in the hands of entry level or administrative employees of your sponsors. Not only will this yield more donations, it will allow your organization to capture guest information and begin to cultivate these young donors.
  • Do post-event research on event attendees. Cultivate obvious donors, but do not disregard the second tier prospects.
  • Have staff make a thank you call to designated guests to engage them, thank them for attending and to invite future involvement in your organization.
  • Events are vehicles to bring in new prospects. These are people you would otherwise not meet, so view this as an opportunity. Develop these donors beyond just the event.

Follow Up:

  • Thank You
  • Send Video
  • Offer Volunteer Opportunities
  • Offer peer to peer fundraising opportunities

Event Journal gives nonprofits a tool to engage event participants. More than just a registration page, our robust event websites allow users to explore your organization and gives you a vehicle with which to engage them for a full year plus.