Perspectives on Philanthropy
from Jerold Panas
Books by Jerold Panas
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When a board candidate resists giving, or asking, cast a wider net
He shook his finger at me. It was obvious this was a topic he felt keenly about.
“I’d go on to the next one. That’s what I’d do.” That is C. Allen Favrot speaking. And Allen knows what he’s talking about. He’s a great community leader, a volunteer of monumental proportions.
And when Allen Favrot speaks, you better listen! He has striking credentials. He has been chair and chief volunteer officer of the United Way in New Orleans, and chair of the board of directors of the YMCA. He has headed both the United Way campaign and several capital campaigns for the YMCA. He has been the driving force behind every effort in New Orleans that serves the social and human agenda of that community. He has accrued dozens of citations, honors, and leadership roles.
SEMINARS FOR FUNDRAISERS 2014
What prompted Allen’s comment was when I asked him what his reaction would be if he spoke to a person about serving on a board and the man or woman said: “I’ll join the board, but you can’t count on me for a gift and I won’t call on anyone.”
“Allen,” I asked, “what would you do?”
“I’d go on to the next one. I wouldn’t consider adding someone to one of the boards I serve on who isn’t interested enough to make a gift or willing to call on others for a donation. I don’t care how well known he is in the community or what his name might mean to the organization. It would be obvious he doesn’t bring the kind of commitment that is necessary. I’d pass him by and go on to the next one.
“Give, get, or get off. I really practice that. If you don’t get someone who is willing to work and give, you are settling for less than the best. And I don’t think any institution can afford that these days.”
Allen is right. An organization cannot afford to have board members who aren’t pulling their weight. That’s because, more than ever before, organizations face an insatiable appetite for funds. It won’t get better. But having the right board can make the difference.
Over the years, I judge I have worked professionally with over 2000 organizations across the country and around the world. I’ve been the chief executive officer of two nonprofits, mother and father to 400 YMCAs on the East Coast, a member of eight nonprofit boards, and vice president of a college. So much for my credentials!
I’ve seen institutional life from every side of the table. I believe I know something about nonprofit structure and work. And I am convinced that the success, outreach, and mission-achievement of an institution is in direct proportion to the commitment and dedication of its board.
The trouble is, most organizations and most staffs spend precious little time and consideration in what should be a matter of priority significance - enlisting the most effective board possible.
Now, don’t get huffy! I’m certain I’m correct on this. Think for a moment and see if your organization is a bit like this group I’m going to describe.
I met recently with 53 men and women who are chief executive officers of the Easter Seal Society. These are the professionals who head the largest Easter Seal Chapters in the country. They are great people - bright, effective, and eager to succeed. I was talking to them about how they spend their time.
Much of this won’t surprise you. Most of their time is spent in administration. Next comes meetings - with staff and volunteers. All kinds of meetings. For some, it amounts to as much as 50 percent of their time. One executive told me that these meetings bring together “a collection of individuals who separately do nothing and together decide that nothing can be done. The unfit trying to lead the unwilling to do the unnecessary!”
Virtually all spend two percent of their time, or less, on trustee recruitment and development. Two percent or less!
If it is true, and it is, that the board of an organization determines and assures the program and services, the funding, and the validity and vitality of the institution - you need the strongest board possible. If it is true, and again it is, that the board defines and charts the destiny of your organization, you need the most effective and devoted directors possible. That’s why it is difficult to understand why so little time is given to such a consequential imperative. It’s the life of your organization we’re talking about.
It is not enough for nonprofit chief executive officers to do things right. They must do the right things. And most significant among these right things is having a board that is vital, active, and dedicated. You want a board that holds the institution to unsparing standards of performance.
The most effective executives I have worked with are Money Tree-shakers and trustee-makers. The most successful among these executives spend appropriate time on board development - present and future. And it pays.
Eight Irrefutable Principles
Here are eight axioms which influence the character and practice of the nonprofit board:
1. You will find it easier to recruit and keep good board members if you have a successful operation. No one wants to serve and give time to help save the sinking Titanic.
2. Strong board members are attracted to strong staff. The more effective the chief, the more effective the board. The chief executive officer helps define and determine the type of person who chooses to serve on the board. If you have a weak chief, chances are you will have a weak board.
3. Fund raising cannot be conducted successfully without board members who are influential, affluent, and affirmative.
4. Excellence in the institution doesn’t just happen. It requires a shared commitment on the part of both staff and board to be nothing less than the best. Together, they keep raising the bar. It’s interesting to note that with the organizations I have worked - if the board and chief officer are willing to accept anything less than excellence, that’s what they get.
5. A board that is unwilling to pay effective and productive staff appropriate salaries often gets the kind of staff it deserves.
6. Board members who do not prepare properly for board meetings often make poor decisions. They should never complain about the organization’s focus or direction. Their inattention sets the course for a rudderless journey in stormy waters. No compass, no direction, no bearings, no leader. No future.
7. A whole world of capable men and women is waiting to be asked to serve on your board. I am convinced of it. They are magnificent people and will contribute mightily in every way to your work. They are just waiting to be asked. Here is a rule you can consider gospel: You will be hurt more by those who were not asked and would have said yes - than by those who say no.
8. Board members will keep surprising you. They are forged, not easily found. But they’ll stand on tiptoes for the right mission, the right program, and the right staff. They’ll take on assignments that they would once have never considered. They are often quite ordinary men and women, willing to make extrodinary commitments.
Here’s What Board Members Must Do
From time to time, I’m asked at a board meeting what I consider to be the major criteria of a trustee. There are those who wish they hadn’t asked! As a consultant, I’ve discovered that board members are allowed to ask questions, but are not always obliged to listen!
1) An effective board member must understand the institution, its history, its present program, and its outreach. A trustee must be dedicated to the mission and measure everything the organization does in relation to its philosophy of operation.
Understanding the purpose of the organization means that the board member knows the distinctiveness of the mission, what sets you apart. They realize you cannot market if you don’t have a clear and focused vision. This means being aware of those with a similar service.
2) A board member must be faithful about attending board and committee meetings - and participate fully, openly, and with candor. I consider 70 percent attendance to be a minimum level. Anything below that is unacceptable. (A number of foundations now won’t consider a grant if your attendance is less than 70 percent.)
3) In today’s world, there is little tolerance for delay, dawdling, and diddling. This means expediting the decision making process; the vagaries of the market-place force a strategic sensitivity to time. Decisions need to be driven by the 2-Ms: Market and Mission - backed up by data.
In today’s world, off-the-cuff determinations will not suffice. It often requires market research, cost analysis -- penetrating and effective analysis. In today’s world, putting off a decision is actually making a decision - and you may not like the outcome.
4) A board member must be a roaring advocate. At every opportunity possible, a director speaks with enthusiasm and an unquestionable ardor about the organization.
5) He or she brings to bear all the influence possible to persuade others to act in a positive way on behalf of the organization.
6) Alchemy means the transmutation of base metal into gold. Robertson Davies, the great Canadian author, says what alchemy really means is something that has attained such excellence, such nearness to perfection, that it “offers a glory, and the expansion of life and understanding, to those who have been brought in contact with it.” That’s what board members are - the alchemists.
7) New ideas in motion. That’s what will thrust your organization forward. Board members need to be challenged to embrace new ideas as conditions change and need to be changed. If trustees are properly prepared, and the situation is properly interpreted, they will move faster than you ever thought possible.
They need to continually rethink the institution’s mission and business. Your competitors already are. They need the gift of prophecy. They understand that what is good enough today is unacceptable tomorrow.
8) A trustee settles for nothing less than the best. He or she understands that the difference between big and great ... is very small. A trustee makes certain that all activities and offerings of the institution are of the highest quality possible. And a board member understands that when you refuse to accept anything but the very best, you most often get the best.
9) A board member brings his or her business acumen into the boardroom and is intrepid about making tough decisions. They ask the what and why questions - not the how questions.
10) They volunteer, that’s what good trustees do. There are assignments that come up, some difficult and fairly time-consuming. A dedicated board member takes them on. I tell them that at first, they may shock fellow trustees with their willingness. But after a short while, that kind of spirit catches on. It is contagious. Success happens only with dedication and hard work.
11) Many don’t like this next part. I tell them what some don’t like to hear. But it’s okay - they expected me to say it. And I remind them that they asked me. They must give sacrificially. That means they give to the very best of their ability. They stretch. And, they help get gifts from others - friends, business associates, neighbors. I tell them that at first, these friends and colleagues will be so infectious they will find the cause irrisistible.
12) Board members provide accord and acclaim for the good work of the staff. A board has the responsibility to expect the very best performance possible from the staff. The truth is, not every organization has a staff that comes up to this high expectation. When it does, the board must applaud and give support. And I tell them: “If you have a really effective staff, in order to recognize and hold them - try choking them with gold!”
Recently, I completed a manuscript on trusteeship. In the course of preparing the material, I interviewed about 100 men and women who serve on boards. These were wonderful, caring people. One of the most notable was Winton M. Blount.
Red Blount is one of the largest donors and one of the major leaders of all good causes in Montgomery, Alabama. He has been involved as an active volunteer and a generous donor for dozens of organizations, for years and years. He understands that being a giver and a volunteer is reaching your fullest potential as a human being.
Much of the vitality and strength and direction of major nonprofits in Montgomery is attributable to Blount’s commitment and devotion. He told me something that was fascinating.
“Whenever I give time and money to one of my organizations,” Blount said, “I always get it back. The more time I volunteer and the more money I give, the better I seem to do personally. There’s no rationale or explanation for this - it just happens.”
I heard virtually the same type of comment from every single one of the board members I interviewed for my study. What they give, they get back. And they get it back many times over. One board member told me: “Life is a wheel. It goes round and round. And the more I give, the more that comes back to me.”
Ahh, the altruism concept is alive and well.
No other activity can match the dimension and breadth of trusteeship. All the board members I spoke with felt they were part of something truly significant and that their involvement was worth all the time and energy they gave. There wasn’t even time to ask: “Who the devil talked me into this in the first place?”
I’ve worked with all kinds of board members. There are those I call the well-poisoners. These are the doomsayers. They are the ones who will tell you why things won’t work out, that it’s been tried before, and it can’t be done. They are against just about everything. And ring their hands in despair. Life is drudgery and a bore. They pass it on to the organization.
Then there are the institutional-maintainers. These are the directors who insist that things be kept as they are. They are adamant for steadfast stagnation. They yearn for the good old days and cherish the status quo. These trustees take care of things, they maintain, and they make certain that everything is quite tidy. They never step out of their box.
And then there are those special ones, the institutional-enrichers. These are the men and women who at every opportunity possible find a new way to renew and revitalize the institution.
If properly challenged, the institutional-enrichers will achieve glorious objectives for your organization. They’ll reach new horizons for you. You will soar.
Board members will not disappoint you, not if they understand and experience the joy of being head-over-heels involved in your work. It is one of the glorious celebrations of this life that no one can help another without helping him or herself.
Having the right board members will, in the end, help your institution resonate with service and overflow with activities. The proper board sustains your mission and ensures your future.
Your board members just need to be reminded that their major responsibility is to make certain that your organization has the proper funding. Money makes it happen.
Be one with Allen Favrot. If you can’t count on the dedication and commitment of a prospective or present board member, go on to the next one.
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