Friday, August 2, 2013

Improving Board and Staff Relationships for Fundraising

Countless organizations lack a healthy relationship between board members and staff. Instead of working together, sometimes both sides are like two cats fighting for the same ball of yarn--Kind of reminds me of when my mom would tell me to "play nice" every morning before school. They seem to work against each other without considering that the organization is deeply affected by unrealistic expectations and half-ass communication.

Both parties are disconnected often because of the board expects staff to be responsible for a task, while the staff team is expecting that same thing out of the board. These issues that arise almost always involve the act of fundraising. Discussions relating to program decisions usually aren’t as catty and allow for more compromising. But not fundraising!

There are probably a million different reasons why there are disconnects between board and staff, but I’ve chosen to focus on two classic scenarios I run into most (trust me; these two will already make for a long post!):
1) The board expects staff to raise more money through grants, and by hosting more fundraising events while staff expect board members to have miracle connections to a circle of wealthy individuals with dispensable income to donate to the organization.

2) The board expects staff to raise money with NO money, while staff expect board members to understand all the complexities and frustrations they face.

The solution to both is communication

For the Board: The board needs to know that the grant writing process can be very strenuous, and that the rejection of a grant does not necessarily reflect the skills and knowledge of the organization’s staff. The grant process requires more than just filling in an application. The grant writer has to collect data, research, work (back and forth) with program staff, get cost approvals, gather support letters, and so on. On top of that, a well put together grant application doesn’t always guarantee funding! Board members need to be familiarized with the grant process as well as trends in charity that funders want to get their hands on.

Showing up for an event to welcome guests is not the same as planning the event. While board members are usually involved in fundraising events by welcoming, networking or speaking to guests, those are all relatively easier tasks than having the responsibility to make sure the event is successful! Staff resources are already so stretched out that insisting to add a new event may take the focus away from other more important tasks—like grants. Another thing that board members need to understand is fundraising initiatives cannot be run for free. As Ancient Rome play writer Titus Plautus once said: You have to spend money to make money. If some of your board members come from a corporate background, explain to them in a way they would understand. Like, “you wouldn’t be able to start-up a business unless you had SOME investment, right?” Sometimes, shifting their perspectives improves communication between board and staff.

For the Staff: Staff have to limit their expectations that the board is responsible for making connections that will result in lottery-size donations. While board members are encouraged to promote the organization they serve, it does not necessarily mean they are already well-connected to wealthy sources. Oftentimes, individuals contribute to the board by offering a specialized service which in itself, makes them feel accomplished. In-kind services absolutely cannot be discredited by not having “rich friends”, because these services play a large role in the policies created to govern the organization in the first place. If your board member isn't a fundraiser, respect their decision and value their existing contributions.

Board members are not there (and really shouldn’t be) every day to see the problems that an organization faces. So how can staff expect them to understand these issues? You can’t unless you communicate to them through conversation, a presentation, or giving them a report. As a board member myself, I personally value detailed board reports from staff because it allows me to see their successes, areas of improvements, and areas where they need more help in. Staff can easily clear up concerns by sharing these details with the board member.

See? I’ve only chosen two and this is how long I was able to drag this post. Communication is such an essential component to successful organization growth. Without it, the struggle between the board and the staff team can be detrimental to the charity.

So readers, what unruly expectations have you gotten either as a board or staff member? If so, what were some of your solutions?

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Please feel free to comment on today's blog post. I welcome all opinions, suggestions and feedback--both good and bad--because frankly, fundraisers are desensitized to negativity. Thank you for reading!