Swapping hats from consulting for a moment, this post is for my fellow board members. You know who you are. Non-profit leaders work tirelessly to activate us to our potential. Books are written. Seminars are developed. Consultants are engaged. But impactful board service truly comes down to three simple questions and we need to take personal responsibility for our own engagement if we are going to lead. So as summer wanes and focus turns back again to work, school, football and board service, do the non-profit you love a solid and ask…
Will I Show Up?
Everyone knows that a great deal of the success in life is about simply showing up. Board members who show up to meetings, events, program sites, performances and special events tend to excel at the other things like making connections in the community and leveraging philanthropic investment. Board members who show up consistently learn, engage, interact, understand, and can testify to the good work of an organization.
Nothing deepens a relationship to an organization like being an active participant. Non-performers become committed board members through action. Showing up is the only place to start.
There is an unfortunate gap between the general (and vital) volunteers of organizations and us fancy pants board members. Bridge that gap by volunteering. Planting trees and reading to children is way, way more fun than sitting in a meeting. Introduce yourself as a board member. Ask questions. Listen. You will be amazed at what you see and hear.
So show up. To everything you can. If you promise to do something, like make a personal introduction or place a cultivation call, do it. The sooner the better. What can be gained by waiting?
Will I invest personal capital?
Our relationships define and enrich our lives. When we are down or in need, our friends and colleagues are there for us in profound ways. We all spend a lifetime building up social capital with one another. A successful board member is someone willing to spend some of that capital on an organization’s behalf. How? Through personal solicitation, of course, but also via event invitations, by opening doors to business relationships, and inviting friends to get involved.
It should be (and is) the easiest board duty imaginable to fill a table of 8-10 friends or colleagues for your organization’s special event. Invite some friends whose company you enjoy for a fun evening out and you are there. And yet this is so very challenging for many board members. Why? A board member’s unwillingness to invest personal capital in the smallish favor of attending a fundraising event is shameful. It is.
Recently my organization hosted our annual fundraising dinner and I filled a table, as I try to do each year. There were some logistical hiccups this year and it wasn’t the terrific time it has been prior. My friends didn’t have the best experience. Do I feel bad? I do. I leveraged some of my closest relationships so of course I am unhappy that it wasn’t a great night. That’s the risk of investing my capital in this way. But I will do it again next year because I care about the mission.
Will I make a significant gift?
Giving sacrificially means different things to different people. I accept that. How much is enough? To me it should be enough to plan and budget for as a financial event, enough to necessitate a conversation with a spouse, and enough to be missed. If you are able to pay your annual gift without noticing the difference in your checking account that month you are not giving enough. You aren’t. Lose the house? No. But many of you are spending too much on the kids. Give some more cash instead to your organization.
Make the organization one of your top two or three philanthropic priorities or step aside and let someone else get involved. And give your gift early in the fiscal year, without prompting or making the staff waste precious time to chase you down. Annual funds are sustained by urgency and momentum and your early investment paves the way for a strong year.
My fellow board members, if you cannot affirm these three little questions please find a way to gracefully withdraw from service this year. Non-profits need engaged, active and thoughtful leaders. Be one or get out of the way.