When a board candidate resists giving or asking
From the archives of Jerold Panas, 2012
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 and 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.
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 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.
I’ve seen institutional life from every side of the table. I believe I know something about nonprofit structure and work. I am convinced that the success, outreach, and mission achievement of an institution are in direct proportion to the commitment and dedication of its board.
The trouble is, most organizations and most staff spend precious little time and consideration on what should be a matter of priority significance—enlisting the most effective board possible.
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 of a Nonprofit Board
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. Fundraising 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, and 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.