Small Shop Board Leadership
& Training

May 2019

Weak leadership sinks ships. It may sound corny, but it’s true. When I meet a prospective Red Olive client, one of the first  pieces of the organizational puzzle I try to figure out is the role that the board plays within organizational life. Here’s a quick test that I use, but that you can use, too, to understand the health of your board leadership.

  • Do they have 100% board giving of an explicit financial gift (please, let’s do away with the “give/get” model)?
  • Are they a helicopter board, hovering too close to daily operations and programs?
  • Are they a ghost board: impossible to pin down or find except as a list on your website?
  • Most importantly, are they having fun & are they proud?
  • When out in the world, do they announce their leadership affiliation to your organization?

The answers to these questions point to the road map for successful or difficult for a potential engagement. If there are too many red flags, I have an honest conversation with the prospective client as  to whether or not I think the consulting engagement will be fruitful. Again, success or failure, and certainly long-term sustainability of any fundraising effort, does not just live at the staff level. The board has to hold it too. In a way that is meaningful and in a way they can sustain. We have to guide them, even as they guide us.

This summer, I am launching a deep-dive virtual, collaborative workshop for small shop organizations. I invite you to join us. In the meantime, here are some tips to get the most wind out of your board leadership sails:

1. Get the right people on the bus

Test for quid pro quo: What do you get for their board service? What do they get for board service? There needs to be a value exchange that goes both ways or else you’ll lack balance.

Board leaders who are champions for your org > board leaders with $ in the bank. They can have all the money in the world, but if they don’t believe in the work, you won’t see a penny of it.

Do not use board members to replace staff you should be investing in. Hire development staff. Hire a communications manager. Find a pro-bono or nonprofit lawyer who can advise your inquiry.

2. Tell them (probably multiple times) their jobs. Make sure each board member knows exactly why they are there.

Be explicit on the GIVE part of their duties. Spell it out together. Have them write an amount they will swipe their credit card or move stock or write a check for. This is a number you should put in your budget. Not a “give/get” budget.

Review with the whole board their collective responsibilities to the organization.

Review individually how each board member is doing against the goals they set out at the beginning of the fiscal year. Re-scope if necessary.

3. If the system is working right, and they are active givers, board members pay to be of service to the organization.

Please remember that.

4. Keep them proud and having fun.

Short program reports can keep giving them reasons to be proud. Give them bragging statements.

If it’s been a while since your board member has brought people to an event, shared your programs on social, or even given feedback that wasn’t only criticism, evaluate if they are happy. If they are unhappy or not proud, find the best and quickest way to thank them and move them off the board.

Join me to go deeper on these ideas and more! What tips do you have for board development? What else would you like to learn?

Hope to see you in the Classroom August 12 – 13.


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