September 17, 2018

Help! My Board Won’t Help Raise Revenue

2 board members thinking“We ask our board to get five people to donate, and they do,” the speaker said.

“How do you do that?” came an incredulous cry from the audience.

Learning that a board helps with fundraising should not leave nonprofit leaders incredulous. Healthy boards engage and lead. Healthy boards support income growth.

The support, you seek, may or may not include “getting five people to donate.” It does involve measurable actions to boost revenue growth. You and the members have many choices about how the board helps. (Watch: What’s the Board’s Role in Fundraising?) However, for you, your organization, and your board members to benefit from board help, first you must overcome any pushback. I’ve learned over the years that board resistance originates from four sources. One source is healthy; the rest harmful.

The Healthy Reason Boards Won’t Engage-Resource Preservation

Your first source of resistance to helping to obtain resources comes with any group of people. All living beings conserve energy. Your members will act to preserve their time, energy, and resources. You ask your board to set an income strategy. Board members think, “That sounds like a lot of work.” They say, “We think staff should do that.”

Why Won’t Your Board Engage? Three Types of Unhealthy Resistance

Besides natural resistance, you’ll encounter unhealthy pushback. This opposition signals an infection or even multiple ailments.

Unfortunately, nonprofits cause two of the three kinds of serious pushback. How? By exposing your board to poorly designed requests for help. By design, I mean the processes you use to engage your board. Let’s look at those two sources of resistance now.

1. Design Challenges

This nonprofit-generated resistance stems from exposure to your faulty design. Faulty design issues include vague instructions, weak cases, poor or no skill training, one-size-fits-all requests, high risk-low-return proposals, and too many appeals, to name a few. Fundamentally, you fail to offer opportunities with clear wins for your members. For instance, at every meeting, you ask your board to help with three or more tasks. They look at all the choices as options and choose none.

2. After-Design Challenges

This second type of nonprofit design created resistance stems from exposure to old faulty design. Just as repetitive activities develop calluses, opposition frequently bubbles up from old wells.

An example will help. At a board meeting, copying a colleague, you ask your members to call five people to support your annual appeal. The response? Several people flip open their cell phones. Others thumb through their paperwork. One jumps up, clutching his phone, and runs out of the room. Collectively they “play dead.”

Why do they respond this way? The last seven times they heard similar requests, avoidance worked. They didn’t have to do the task.

You triggered and reinforced a conditioned response. (Remember Pavlov’s dogs from your Psych 101 class?) In this case, instead of food linked with a bell, you link requests with avoidance behaviors.

So far, we looked at one natural source of resistance, and two kinds of nonprofit-induced pushback. Next, we consider the fourth kind of resistance. Fortunately, we don’t cause it. Nonetheless, it’s still frustrating and unhealthy.

3. Personal Resistance

Understanding the above resistance issues, you design an incredible opportunity for your board. Still, you experience vigorous pushback. Board members don’t return calls. Appointments get forgotten. Conversations take weird turns. Over time, in the swirl, you hear their message: “No.” This resistance stems from damaged thinking. They’re afraid of fundraising, rejection, admitting that they have no idea how to fulfill your request, operating out of their comfort zone, and more.

Turning Board Resistance into Goal Energy 

Does your board resist your request to help obtain revenue? Which of the four reasons lies at the heart of their pushback? Hint: It can be more than one. To transform opposition to help, first, understand its origins. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me to improve your board’s support for resource development.

For more answers, check out this Nonprofit CEO Library.

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.


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