January 8, 2023

Help My Boards Eager, Confused, & Anxious about Income!

Marketers recommend that we select three words to describe ourselves. If you had to choose words to describe your board’s attitude about fundraising, what words would you choose?

How about eager, confused, and anxious?   

I frequently write about every day but often overlooked ideas that ingenious nonprofit leaders use to increase their income. Today, the focus is on boards and fundraising.

What board ideas are overlooked? Here’s one. If you educate and lead your board, you can focus their energy on obtaining revenue. In short, ingenious nonprofit leaders empower their board to move from eager, confused, and anxious about fundraising to energized, focused, and successful.

Why Get Your Board Onboard?

Leaders lead.

You ask board members to lead. You charge them, among other things, to help you develop strategies to ensure the availability of sufficient resources. “A board has a legal duty of ‘due care’ that involves ensuring that there are enough resources for the organization now and in the future,” advises the Center for Nonprofit Risk Management. You charge board members with developing successful strategies to create adequate resources. (Note: This doesn’t mean that they must fundraise. It means that they must find ways to obtain resources. A board that helps with fundraising happens to be a strategy that works for nearly all nonprofits.)

You need the money.

For eight of the last ten years, the nonprofit sector ended the year in the red as of this writing. You need the energy and labor of an active, helpful, and focused board so you end the year in the black.

Energy goes somewhere.

Think of bees. If nothing disturbs them, they work tirelessly to make honey. They focus on productive work. When bees get disturbed, however, they swarm to attack. Little honey gets made. Without a solid understanding of how nonprofits earn money, boards swarm in confusion as they try to make effective, crucial decisions. Uncertainty doesn’t create income. It creates plodding. Some even “go through the motions” until their terms expire.

In all likelihood, you’re blessed with abundant board energy to create honey.

Help them do it.

What Does an Onboard Board Look Like?

How will you recognize a successful board when you see it? You’ll see energy, focus, and confidence. They pick a strategy and then stay the course. They see their work as a long-term process that includes dramatic leaps forward, bumps, and setbacks. During meetings, you hear productive conversations about income opportunities and link opportunities to each other and your revenue strategy.

Instead of income ideas popping like kernels of corn and getting consumed while they are hot, new opportunities get thoughtfully considered against criteria such as:

  • Resource costs, including labor and money
  • The likelihood of success
  • How they fit with the agency’s overall revenue strategies

Onboard boards understand they have multiple revenue options. They recognize that they have roles to play in supporting revenue generation. Productive conversations rule the day. You see a focus on constructing a superhighway to significant income opportunities.

How Can You Get Your Board Onboard?

1. Get on board yourself.

Whether your role is a staff member, board member, or volunteer, consider how you’ll manage the board. For some, “managing a board” or proactive leading directors will be a new, perhaps, scary concept. When my college roommate’s son was giving her grief, she told him. “You’ve learned all sorts of things in college about managing people. Use what you learned to manage me.” Decide to help your board move beyond eager, confused, and anxious. In response to your guidance, the behavior they take is, of course, each member’s individual choice. What you offer them is yours. I recommend you offer them the opportunity to succeed “beyond expectations.”

2. Know what you know.

No matter how excellent their backgrounds are, your board members are not nonprofit experts or experts about your nonprofit—you are. Expect confusion and misinformation. Can your board name the three most significant nonprofit revenue streams? How about for your organization? If your board is like most of the directors I’ve worked with, most likely not. Tons of misinformation exists.

“Nonprofit income is a mess,” shares Kathy Kingston, author of A Higher Bid (Wiley 2015), “Karen nails it in 7 Nonprofit Income Streams, Open the Floodgate to Sustainability! Confusion exists not only about the different income streams nonprofits can tap but also and the size (and importance) of each stream. When it comes to how nonprofits obtain donated income, bedlam rules. Most conversations between staff and boards about it resemble a modern-day tower of Babel rather than actual dialog.

Know what you know and share it.

3. Use their interest and energy to educate.

As a leader, you have the perfect opportunity to educate your directors since they start eager and anxious. They need to learn the good and bad news about nonprofit income growth. The good news: It’s a lot less scary than you imagined. The bad: It’s more ongoing work than you’d like.

Energized, Focused, and Confident

Getting your board on board will help you resolve two of your most significant challenges: obtaining adequate income and creating a solid board of directors. You can create opportunities for your board to move from eager, confused, and anxious to energized, focused, and confident.

If you’d like to know more about boards and nonprofit income development, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d love to help you grow an energized, focused, and confident board with the revenue you need to focus on your mission.

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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