Do you remember the Mission: Impossible television series, whose hallmark was a set of taped instructions that self-destructed after playing? The instructions always offered the secret agent, a member of the U.S. Impossible Mission Force, this option, “Your mission, if you choose to accept it . . .” Naturally, the agent accepts the mission and deftly accomplishes the impossible in 60 minutes, including commercial breaks.
Developing a supportive board creates a base for mission possibilities and growing both a culture of philanthropy and your income in nonprofit organizations. Many nonprofit leaders find obtaining all the board support they need to be a challenge. You might even believe that a more supportive board is your “mission: impossible.” However, unless you choose to be, you are not powerless here. Obtaining board support is possible – even to help with raising funds.
Inspired nonprofit leaders dedicated to obtaining more support create supportive boards. They do this because this board support leads to more income and mission. If you seek greater board support, decide that you will obtain it. Then, reframe the challenge. Instead of approaching this as something the board should be doing, decide what you will do to support your board. One “secret” to more board support is your own actions.
Creating support, among other things, is a matter of education, skill-building, and discipline. This article focuses on these actions. To help you, I’ve created a menu of standard education needs. Use it as a well from which to draw ideas as you plan your “Get More Board Support” campaign. Most people at least include a brief “enlighten and educate” experience in their regular meetings. One key to success is the consistency of your efforts.
1. Your Nonprofit 101. This topic helps board members, like Anna with the King of Siam, get to know all about you. At a retreat, a CEO was surprised to learn that a member didn’t know the nonprofit had a website. Another member was unaware of a program they’d been offering for two years. The CEO remedied this by creating brief meet-the-team sessions. During them, staff members share their work for five minutes and answer board questions for ten.
2. Funding Quick and Dirty. To make sound decisions and help you obtain funding, every board member needs to understand all the ways you earn funds, the effort necessary to gain these funds, and their relative size. Once this is clear, they also need to know or decide on how you plan to be funded in the future. As a starting point, use this exercise from a recent issue of Added Value.)
3. How We Earn This Funding. You can also improve board support by taking the mystery out of nonprofit funding with facts and overviews of the processes used to obtain different income sources. Does your board think that you magically obtain county funding, or do they understand the 60 hours of work required yearly even to apply? Show them the paperwork and discuss the process. Do they want to solve income shortfalls by doubling donations without identifying additional resources to dedicate to the effort? Share with them the resources, steps, and timeline needed to obtain 200 new donors. When they understand the actions needed and why board members can deepen relationships and provide effective support. Eventually, explore the board action fundamentals for all seven nonprofit funding sources. (Hint: Share our series, What Your Board Needs to Know About the Seven Sources of Nonprofit Income)
4. The Exact Help You Want. What is a supportive board? Do your members know the answer? This education helps them to know exactly what you hope they will do and how to do it. Create a list of the specific, measurable actions needed to support the organization. If income needs drive your efforts, ensure your board understands the governance committee’s expectations established in this area. For instance, if corporate funding is an area of focus, provide step-by-step training on telling your story and exploring corporate interest. To actively measure growing support, see Guilty as Charged, Prove Your Board Supports Your Organization and this tool.
5. Mission Success, Energy Boosters. Success stories are the antidote for the hard work, discouragement, and roadblocks everyone experiences to make mission happen. The right success stories refresh, sustain, and inspire us. What are the human stories behind your organization? Invite clients or staff to share. Ask board members to share why they are dedicated to this organization. For some members, helping your nonprofit is a penultimate event. It’s a lost opportunity for your nonprofit if the people sitting next to each other at meetings fail to learn the why behind their fellow board member’s passion.
6. Nonprofit Funding Landscape. No organization operates on Mars. This education helps the board grasp essential changes impacting you from the outside. Many nonprofits invite their community foundation staff to talk about planned giving. You need not stop there. Invite experts to talk for ten minutes and answer questions for five more. Send out one of our podcasts for a mid-month boost. Ask your board members and vendors to be mini-guest speakers on topics like, “What do nonprofit organizations need to know about technology?” Don’t neglect what you personally have to offer. After attending a national conference, share your insights by providing relevant highlights in twitter-length lists in board-only emails. Enrich your board with the wisdom of others.
This article provides you with a mindset and a set of actions to obtain more board support. In part, the support you seek will result from a combination of growing knowledge and skills — for you and your board members. Is Board support, even for funding needs, Mission: Possible? Yes, Secret Agent.
What Your Board Needs to Know About the Seven Source of Nonprofit Income, Added Value Series, Feb. 2011- Sept. 2011.