Perspectives on Philanthropy
from Jerold Panas
Books by Jerold Panas
Click on the book cover for more information
|The Ayes Have It
So say the raised hands anyway
It was a glorious morning. That’s how it started out.
But that’s not the way it ended.
I’ll explain. There’s a lesson here.
Come with me. I'm at a hospital board meeting. We begin at nine o’clock after a modest continental breakfast.
Two hours pass. Not one item of consequence. In most board meetings, when all is said and done — 90 percent will be said and 10 percent will be done.
The group spends an hour discussing whether physicians should be allowed to eat lunch for free. (In the past, doctors have been dutiful about charging their lunch — and faithful about not paying when the monthly bill arrived.) Another hour about whether they should give $1000 donors a marble paperweight or a quartz clock.
SEMINARS FOR FUNDRAISERS 2014
Why is it the less important the item, the more time it consumes. The hours pass.
I’m thinking — in the beginning, man first learned to walk on two feet. Then he learned to eat plants and kill wild beasts. Next, he mastered fire, followed by perfecting the wheel. After that, anthropologists tell us man invented bylaws and elected a board. And that’s when progress stopped.
Now the Chair calls on me. I'm to discuss the feasibility study for a $26 million campaign renovating the Medical Center's Emergency Room. The board wants to adjourn before noon, so I review the material as quickly as possible.
It’s now eleven-thirty, the time when the board usually adjourns. The Chair asks if there are any questions. There aren’t. (That’s almost always a bad sign.)
The Chair says: “Good. Since there aren’t any questions, let’s take a vote. All in favor of moving ahead with the feasibility study and the campaign, signify by saying Aye.”
“Good, the Ayes have it.” As far as I can tell, it’s unanimous.
Well, nearly so. There's one director who doesn’t vote (he’s the wealthiest on the board). Not a propitious start.
I’m particularly concerned about him -- reminded of the time Dean Rusk was running the Rockefeller Foundation. He advised his staff to keep their eye on the Ford Foundation because, “what the fat boy in the canoe does makes a difference to everyone else.”
I also notice a woman who looks perplexed — well, actually perturbed. She gives the appearance of wanting to say something, but doesn’t.
And then there are some who barely get their hand up. You know what I mean — kind of a hesitant, half-way, in a state of apathetic somnolence.
I see a number looking at their watches. Obviously, they need to get back to their office. Or to another meeting. Or who knows.
The Chair doesn’t even adjourn the meeting. There’s nothing to adjourn. Everyone's leaving. There’s practically no one left.
So that's how the morning began.
Now skip a few weeks ahead and join me as I begin the interviews for the feasibility study. I start with the board.
The first person I call on is the Chair. There’s a very pleasant greeting. We’re off to a good beginning. But after a few minutes, he stops me in my tracks.
“I’ve got to tell you, having you at the meeting was a surprise to me. I didn’t know it was coming up on the Agenda until Ruth told me right before the meeting. (Ruth is the Foundation Executive.)
“In fact, I didn’t know a heck of a lot about the campaign until it was discussed briefly at the last meeting. It’s something the CEO wants. I think he pushed Ruth on it.”
“I’m Chair of the Board and I’ll do whatever I can to help. But I'll tell you I’m not real enthusiastic about the project. At least not at this point. I don’t know enough about it.”
The next person I call on is the board member who didn't vote. You remember, the wealthy one.
I start by mentioning how I noticed that he didn't vote. I tell him I wondered why.
“Because I think it’s a dumb project," he says. "There are so many other things we need around here. I put the Emergency Room pretty low on the list.”
I ask him why he didn’t raise his objection at the meeting or at least question the project.
“I guess I should have. But I noticed that everyone else seemed to be in favor of it so I just let it slide. But I’m not going to make a large gift to the program.”
That’s pretty much the way it goes for the next two days. And it didn’t get any better. For a number of board members, it was somewhere between ho and hum. And in a few cases, it was a heck of a lot worse.
I’m getting a BFO — a Blinding Flash of the Obvious. You were probably onto it faster than I.
The project was thrust on the board. There was no buy-in, no ownership, no willingness to take it on.
As you would have done, I call Ruth and tell her what I want to do. She agrees. The CEO had indeed forced the project down her throat.
We call a special meeting of the board. I explain to them I don’t feel they're ready for a campaign. The board has to lead, I tell them. If they don’t, why should anyone else?
We have a healthy discussion. They decide to postpone the study and the campaign. This time, there’s very enthusiastic approval. The wealthy guy? His is the first hand up.
Well, it saddens me to tell you the board never did go forward with that project or any other. Wrong cause. Wrong timing. Wrong romancing. Wrong everything. It was a case of the least, the lapsed, the lost.
I want you to avoid this situation -- it was painful enough for me. So I’ve developed a matrix that enables you to predict with pinpoint precision the success of your campaign. There isn’t another instrument like it. Not even close.
There are 20 criteria, each with a weighted value. You end up totaling your score and measuring it against the tally of 400 successful campaigns.
One of the immutable rules on the matrix is this: There must be wholehearted agreement between the staff and the Board regarding the worthiness of the project. If you have that, you at least have a strong foundation. There is some readiness. Without it, you can’t even begin.
The board must exhibit an unbounded passion for the project. Having passion is the difference between flying and just flapping your wings. You want your project to fly.
After many years of testing and trying to determine a board’s readiness, I've found a procedure thats fail-proof. I guarantee it.
Here it is: when it comes time to determine whether to proceed or not, I don't let the board vote.
That's right. I don’t let them vote, at least not in the convential sense. None of that non-committal business: “All in favor say Aye.”
Let me give you an example that tells the story. It’s about Lubbock Christian University.
The University had me test for a campaign of $40 million. That’s the most the University had ever sought.
Dr. James Johnson is the Vice President of LCU. Even in the short time he’s been there, he's set the school on a fast-track. He's done everything right to lay the foundation for a campaign.
In the study, we actually do find a great deal of money. More than the University would have conceived possible in the past. All that's yet necessary now is to determine the Board's commitment.
With the help of James, we talk to the Chair about not taking a vote. At least not immediately following my presentation.
Instead, James prepares the Chair to give “Testimony.”
"I want the you to say something like this" he begins. “This is likely the most important undertaking the University has attempted in the past 50 years. I don’t want us to be casual about how we vote.
“We need to make sure the Board, the entire Board, is committed to the success of this program. Before I ask you to vote, I want to hear how each of you feels about the program.
“But before I call on you, I want to tell you where I stand. Jane and I have talked about this campaign at some length. And we talked about our love for the University. We thought a long time about the size of gift we'd make. And we prayed about it.
“We’ve decided to make the largest gift we’ve ever made, the largest gift to anything. That’s how much I care.
“And in addition, I’m going to commit the next 18 months of my life to do whatever's necessary to make the campaign successful. That’s how much I care.
“Now I’m going to call on each of you to tell me and the group how you feel. I don’t want to know the specific amount of your gift. That’s not important right now.
“But I do want to hear about the level of your dedication to the success of the campaign. And I want to know how keenly you feel about this project. I want you to give Testimony.”
The Chair then went around the room, one board member at a time. It was electrifying. The room ricocheted with dreams of possibilities.
It was an amazing declaration of their commitment. In a sense, they made a covenant, a sacred vow the campaign would be successful.
I was ecstatic. Stanley could not possibly have been happier when he found his Livingstone.
I've followed this same approach now for the past four or five years. And the results are always the same. I wonder (read that: worry!) each time what will happen if the board is negative. Or if some of the directors say they aren't in favor of a campaign. What happens if the mood turns negative? Or angry?
Well, that would tell the story, wouldn't it. If that should happen, the board and the organization aren't ready for a campaign. Certainly not a successful one.
Something else happened at Lubbock Christian University I want to tell you about. The idea came from Dr. Ken Jones, the very popular President of the University. He liked the idea of giving testimony and ended up giving his own.
Ken suggested that before we ask the board to give testimony and vote, that we break them into small groups and have them discuss the issues.
The President’s idea was prophetic. The sessions turned into forceful precursors to the discussion at the board meeting. It set the stage.
As the outset, I mentioned there are 20 criteria that'll help you determine the success of your campaign. I’ll review the other 19 with you at another time.
But for now, be certain you understand the fundamental rule, the tenet that undergirds everything else: The board and the staff must be united and unanimous in their determination regarding the urgency of the project, and they must be committed to a successful campaign.
They won't be ready otherwise.
Now do as Bruno Bettelheim admonished: “You have heard the profound lesson. The richness of the journey is upon you. Observe. Act. Pass it on.”
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