How to turn your board members into active fundraisers

One of the most frequent complaints I hear is, “our board members don’t fundraise”. Hiding behind the mantra, “I give my time” many sincerely believe that volunteering time equals giving of money.  So, too, in a desire to get people on the board, nominating committees are often quick to ask anyone who may say “yes”, or has a “big name” (and no intention of showing up) or is willing to host a function or stuff envelopes . While these functions are important, they are not the characteristics that make for boards of excellence.

The net result of having a board composed of people who give of their time but are reticent to ask for or give money, is that over time, fundraising becomes less and less of a board priority and euphemistically the lights grow dim since the electric company wants to be paid in cash, not time. While the need to create a broad-based board is critical, the most effective boards, and conversely the strongest organizations, are those that require (not beg) board members to “give AND get”. This is the holy grail of success.

There is no question that building a board solely of people who “give and get” is viewed as politically incorrect and elitist. Experience teaches, however, that often cries of “political correctness” and “elitism”, while powerful, are also cloaks that disguise our discomfort with ideas that make us uncomfortable.

Strong organizations, however, base their success on affirming that board service isn’t a right, but a privilege. Board membership is not for everyone. Strong boards inherently understand that when quality membership standards are put in place, high-caliber volunteers, with impact capacity, step forward to serve.

The one common denominator of organizations that excel in this challenging and competitive environment is that their boards are composed of people who give and ask for money.  The secret to creating such a board, and turning board members into active fundraisers, is grounded in three basic principles:

1)      Setting Expectations

In our desire to fill our boards with committed and good-hearted people, organizations hesitate to articulate clear and unambiguous governance expectations. They fear that if an organization either tells a potential nominee what will be expected, or actually requires it, these people will respond with an emphatic “no thank you”.  Minimizing board responsibilities, however, is not a strategy that leads to strong boards.  Developing a well crafted, strategic approach to board recruitment that emphasizes fund development and board involvement is the first step to creating a board of committed and active fundraisers.

2)      Overcoming Reticence

From an early age we are taught that politics, religion and money should never be discussed in polite conversation.  As a result, most people don’t like talking about money, let alone asking for it.  If your board sees fundraising as a version of hell, you shouldn’t be surprised when their investment in this area is lacking.  To change the dynamic, successful organizations provide quality training opportunities to help volunteers learn the art of asking for money. They also take one other critical action. They place only people on the board who are comfortable asking for money, willing to become comfortable asking for money, will actively open doors to those who can give money and will give money themselves.

While this may mean rotating some very nice people off the board, for an organization to grow it needs its board to be full partners in its fundraising efforts. Having non donors and non fundraisers on the board only weakens the organization’s ability to make the desired impact.  Committees, task forces or projects are perfect places for those who believe in the organization and want to volunteer only time.

3)      Accountability

It is truly amazing the number of boards I encounter that don’t have (or have, but don’t use) written board member job descriptions, member contracts, or are even in compliance with their organizational by-laws. Unless we take the work of boards seriously, why should board members take it seriously?

Great organizations recognize the importance of clear expectations, metrics and holding ourselves and others accountable. By clearly articulating to board members what is expected, how they will be evaluated, and the ramifications of not fulfilling their obligations, board members will have definitive proof that their time is valuable.

Throughout my career, I have yet to meet a board member who did not want to have a rewarding volunteer experience.  Creating a culture whereby volunteers understand the expectations, are provided growth opportunities and are held accountable, provide the foundation for a strong board experience and a powerful organizational impact.  It is these boards that make a difference and excites and drives volunteer engagement and increased fundraising.


I am the Founder and CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, your strategic consulting partner. We can help you enhance your board experience and turn your board into a board of fundraisers. 

We help our clients improve their organizations while facing change head on so that they emerge stronger, efficient, effective, and more successful.

Feel free to contact me at 404 606 6755 or or visit our firm on the web at

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The One + Three Simple Rules That Helped Raise A Billion Dollars

Can you imagine what it would feel like to raise $1billion for your organization or cause? For most organizations such a feeling is totally unimaginable.  For Stanford University, it is reality.

A recently conducted survey reports that Stanford is the first university to ever raise $1billion in a single year…that’s ONE BILLION dollars in ONE year. That’s more than some countries’ GDP and clearly beyond most (read “almost all”) organizations’ wildest imaginations.  Amazingly, and in spite of a troubled economy, Stanford has been the top university campaign for the past 8 years.  While there is no question that the wealth of their alumni is a major contributing factor to their success, Stanford has also built its success on a fundamental strategy that is within every organization’s capacity and grasp.

According to Ann E. Kaplan, the director of the Council for Aid to Education’s annual college fund-raising survey, Stanford reached this historic benchmark because it has “some very big ideas, and they’re good at capturing people’s imagination.”

While donors want to help worthy causes, and will step forward in times of crises to keep the lights on or put food on the plates, we know that most donors ultimately want to feel that they are truly making a difference. Engaged donors want to be excited by what you are accomplishing. They want to know that their partnership is critical to your impact. Donors want imagination, excitement and vision.

Obviously, successful campaigns need well run fundraising operations and a culture of philanthropy, but to truly take your fundraising to the next level, you need to focus your energies on one primary concept that most inherently know, but relatively few actualize:

Successful fundraising organizations partner with their donors in a way that captures their donors’ imagination and excites them with big, bold ideas.

Just as importantly, great fundraising organizations are able to communicate impact with a powerful and compelling story, and answer the following questions with an unequivocal “YES”:

1)      Are your donors excited about what you are doing?

2)      Do your donors truly feel they are your partners in making a real difference?

3)      Can your donors explain to others how their contributions are making a difference?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions you now have a good explanation for why your fundraising is at its current level.  In order to truly experience quantum leaps, now is the time to turn “no” into “yes”, “yes” and “yes”.  When “yes” becomes your new fundraising reality and donors feel like full partners in your mission’s success, then they, too will start to answer “yes” when asked.

It is then, and only then, that you will be on the road to raising your first billion dollars – or at least an amount that surely feels to you like a billion dollars. Just say “yes”!


About Me

I am Founder and CEO of Dynamic Change Solutions, your strategic consulting partner.

We help our clients improve their organizations while facing change head on so that they emerge stronger, efficient, effective, and more successful.

Feel free to contact me at 404 606 6755 or or check out my firm on the web at

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do you know where your Development Director is right now?

Chances are pretty good that while you are reading this blog, your development director or one of your key development staff is probably either out looking for a job, or actively being recruited for one.

According to a new study, conducted by CompassPoint and commissioned by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, the nonprofit fundraising landscape is in need of tremendous restructuring and re-engineering. The study, “Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges facing Nonprofit Fundraising” reveals “that many nonprofit organizations are stuck in a vicious cycle that threatens their ability to raise the resources they need to succeed”. The odds are that the organization you work for, or care about, is probably just like those in the study. If that’s an accurate assessment then your fundraising challenges probably has less to do with the economy and more to do with looking in the mirror.  Although rich in findings, a couple of significant highlights bear immediate acknowledgment:

  • Between 38% and 57% of Development Directors anticipate leaving their jobs within two years;
  • Less than 4 in 10 of Executive Directors are satisfied with their Development Directors;
  • 25 percent of executives surveyed in the report state that their organization’s most recent development director was fired—and 62 percent of those firings were for performance inadequacies.

The onus for all this does not rest solely with the fundraising staff. The issues confronting nonprofit fundraising are holistic in nature and permeate multiple facets of an organization. For example, the study found that:

  • 75 percent of executive directors surveyed (82% of executives from organizations with budgets under $1m) say that board members are NOT sufficiently involved in fundraising;
  • 79 percent of executive directors surveyed agreed that they should be competent in securing gifts but over one quarter acknowledged that they were novices in this area. Among high performers, less than 50% “loved” asking for gifts;
  • 32 percent of those organizations with budgets under $1m surveyed reported having no fundraising data base and 31 percent had no fundraising plan in place.

Last week I was in Miami leading a seminar entitled “The Five plus Two Essential Elements to be an Effective Fundraising Organization”. While I focused on seven specific elements, one overriding theme, which was identified in the study, connected all the elements – and resonated with those in attendance. For any nonprofit to truly be successful at fundraising, it has to embrace an overarching “culture of philanthropy” that envelops every facet of the organization. Fundraising cannot be seen as a series of one-off activities performed by distinct professionals. Rather, for any nonprofit to have fundraising success, everyone within the organization (from the janitor to the program staff person, to the Executive Director) must see themselves as engaging with and performing donor development.

Several years ago while traveling on a Disney Cruise this essential fundraising lesson was affirmed in very real terms. Due to weather issues, our ship was unable to dock at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. For my kids, another sea day was not on their list of “creating Disney memories”. Depressed and upset they decided to hang out in the room for a while and despair in life’s ultimate unfairness. It was at that moment, when life had lost all meaning for them (ok – a bit of an over-dramatization) that the cabin steward came by to make the beds. Although he had hundreds of beds to make and rooms to clean, he instead stopped, and for about 30 minutes taught the kids how to fold the towels into animal shapes. This ended up being one of the kid’s best memories from the cruise. Was this in his job description? Probably not, but what he understood, and what defines the Disney culture is that his job, like everyone else’s was to create life memories.

So, too it is with EVERYONE who works as a professional or volunteer for a nonprofit. Donors are the life blood. While each has a primary job, everyone shares one common goal – to help create and nurture donors. It is only within such a culture of philanthropy that an organization’s mission can truly be fulfilled.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New Year’s Resolutions Are Not Just For Individuals

Calvin and Hobbes Resolutions

How many of us set New Year’s resolutions, only to see them forgotten within a few months or perhaps days? New Year’s resolutions, without a doubt epitomize change.  They are a direct affirmation that we want to change something about ourselves or our lives. They are an expression of our testimonial hope that we can be different and live a changed life. Sometimes they are small and minor, other times, overwhelming and life transforming. In either case, like organizational change efforts, committing to and achieving the desired goal is tough.

Whether eating less, exercising more, or finding a new job, within a short matter of days or weeks most return to their homeostasis and forget that they even thought about changing.

While this reality might be acceptable to us as individuals, in the world of business, avoiding change is not an option. Looking back at what was, in order to look ahead, is not only helpful…it is essential and critical to any long-term success.

The beginning of the New Year is the perfect time, for businesses or organizations, to initiate this process. Whether the budget runs through December or June, January is the ideal month to look back and vision forward.  Winter vacations have ended and summer vacations are futuristic dreams.  People are feeling good coming off the holiday spirit and charged up with anticipation of a new year with new beginnings.  Now is truly the ideal time to start looking ahead. But to do so effectively the process must begin by looking back.

The process of looking back at 2012 begins with questions. The questions may change depending on circumstances, but here are just three, that in my mind, speak to the core success of any company or organization:

  • Great organizations embrace the idea that failure comes with innovation. What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it? Did you reward it?
  • Successful organizations are learning organizations. What did you do to create or reinforce a learning culture?
  • Sustainable organizations continue to grow. Where was your growth and did it align with your strategies?

Looking back, however, is never enough. It is also essential for success to look ahead and seek answers to the unknown (yes, I understand the irony).

1)      What will be our greatest challenge in the coming year and what are we going to do about it?

2)      How do we prepare ourselves for the inevitable pain that comes from amplifying our strengths and eliminating our weaknesses?

3)      If we let our imaginations run wild, what amazing opportunity may be on the horizon and how do we capitalize on it to enhance our impact?

New Year’s is not just a time for toasts and celebrations. It is also a natural break in an organization’s circadian cycle of daily issues and processes. The New Year is the perfect  time to take a good hard look in your organization’s mirror and recognize the actual reflection of who and what you are…and most importantly, what you seek to be.

A medieval philosopher once likened the symbols of the New Year to an alarm clock that awakens us from the slumber of just existing and motivates us to start living a fuller and richer life. It is easy to get swamped and weighed down with the daily grind of management issues. It is easy to get lost in the forest of management details and lose sight of the big picture. It feels comfortable getting mired in the normal existence of the day to day and forget that it is those who constantly challenge and look anew that succeed and excel.  The New Year, and the act of creating resolutions, can awaken us to recognize the possibilities that lie before us, and excite us about potential yet unrealized.

Developing a list of New Year’s resolutions is easy. Sticking with them for the long run….that is the hard part.  Are you prepared to determine how you need to change, or is your organization, to paraphrase the immortal words of Calvin, “Perfect the way you are”?

Have a happy and joyous New Year!!

** Full credit for the above cartoon goes to Bill Watterson, the brilliant creator of Calvin and Hobbs

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Policies, Procedures and……..People

If given a choice, what kind of board would you want to serve on?

Many years ago I experienced the very definition of Board insanity. During a heated discussion debating the merits of expending funds for new chairs in the sanctuary, one of the congregation’s board members suggested that they didn’t really need new chairs.  Rather, he vehemently argued they just needed to reupholster the old ones. Multiple members then piped in challenging this view. Suddenly another member rose from his seat, walked to the door and directed everyone to follow him to the sanctuary so they could examine the chairs themselves. 15 people then arose and followed.   After 45 minutes of debate, argument and frustration, the group returned to the board room and promptly decided to refer this issue to a committee.

How would you feel about serving on this board?

Enhancing an organization’s impact is what any board member or donor desires. Wasting time on trivial matters at tremendous emotional cost is not.  The most effective organizations ALWAYS share something in common – a strong Board of Directors. On such boards, not only do the board members have a clear understanding of the five primary responsibilities of any board member, but they also operate with clear policies and procedures to govern what they do and how they do it. While these elements are critical to maintaining a strong board, one additional piece is essential to making a board, a true board of EXCELLENCE.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with a board that took this standard to an entirely new level. While this board’s leadership inherently understood the importance of having and using agreed upon board member responsibilities and written policies and procedures, they also recognized that they needed something else to be a great board – they needed to address the complexities and dynamics that inevitably arise when people interact around passionate issues.

In planning their annual board retreat, the leadership determined that it was essential to devote significant time to educate board members to recognize and learn how to effectively communicate with each other. This segment of the retreat also focused on providing tools to guide the members in recognizing each other’s management style differences, and how to put petty and distracting interpersonal negative dynamics aside.

It is no accident that this particular organization is one of the strongest and most effective in the community as well as the country.

While corporations spend millions of dollars annually conducting team building exercises, personality style assessments, and communication workshops, it is the rare social sector organization that devotes the time and resources needed to help board members work more effectively together.

Policies and procedures are critical for any board’s success. Achieving board excellence, however, is ultimately all about the people that serve and how they interact. Unlike corporate boards, which have as their primary goal, increasing profit for the shareholders (more about this in a future column), social sector boards operate within a complex and diffuse power system.  As such, the need to understand people’s motives, how they think and how they communicate becomes even more critical.

It is so easy for people to misinterpret and misunderstand each other. It is not difficult to assign presumptive motives to someone’s actions or assume reactions from body language.  While devoting the time and energy to address these issues is critical in any facet of life (just ask a spouse or partner); when it comes to the work of boards and committees these efforts are usually overlooked. This is a missed opportunity.

Spending time to better understand how an organization’s board members can more effectively interact with each other inevitably leads to enhanced volunteer satisfaction and thus, increased board productivity and organizational buy-in.   Steven Covey, the recently passed leadership expert stated “When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective.”  Organizational boards and committees that are successful are built upon this foundation of trust (which comes from a keen awareness of how to work with the others in the room).

These foundational efforts also have the ability to assist boards when they address the inevitable divisive and politically charged issues that are part and parcel of any nonprofit board experience.   Rather than living through the experience of a board meeting turning toxic – and board members walking away angry, frustrated and resentful (which they will take out on the organization – not the other volunteers) – boards can change the paradigm. They can, with some effort, and maximum reward, establish a culture whereby board members will learn to recognize the cues and better work together.

People are complex beasts. In every setting we find ourselves in, we bring internal suitcases filled with emotions, expectations, experiences and pre-conceived notions.    George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” Having the tools and resources to help us create a culture where true communication takes place can enable any organization to have more effective meetings, better volunteer to volunteer and professional to volunteer relationships and a stronger and more impactful organization.  Isn’t this what we all desire from our boards?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Today we have a leader. Tomorrow…..? Now What?

I don’t know if it was a cold and chilly day or a warm, sunny day. I just know that at this particular school it was probably just like any other day. Kids walking (probably running) through the hallways, teachers motivating their students, and a few parents idling around the school going to and from meetings. It was a day like all others.

And then, the unimaginable occurred. No one thought it odd that the former staff person came into the building. No one blinked when he entered the office of the Head of School. And then the world changed. The sound of the gunshot reverberated throughout the halls and within moments the Head of School lay dead. The school community was traumatized and in shock.  Chaos ensued.

This very real school is still dealing with the horrific events of that day. * This column, however, is not about dealing with crisis situations. Rather, this all too real story provides a shocking reminder of the importance of every institution to be prepared for the day when the leader says, “My time here is over”.

Like most institutions, this school had no succession plan in place. They never thought about what would happen if the leader stepped down, was incapacitated for a significant period, or passed away. Sure, there was the assistant who could fill a void for a few days or weeks. Many organizations delude themselves into thinking that since things run smoothly when the leader takes a sabbatical or goes on vacation (forgetting that emails are probably still flying back and forth), they can easily handle it when the leader departs forever (either abruptly or in a well coordinated manner).

This is not a comfortable conversation and thus the reason so many organizations avoid it. To engage with the current head and say that the organization should start preparing a succession plan raises red flags of paranoia. To invest the funds to develop staff that will be able to naturally step into the role demands the recognition that you may inevitably be investing in someone who might leave to take a position elsewhere. Sometimes we strengthen our individual institutions…. Other times the system. That is the nature of the competitive marketplace.

While there are no simple answers to these difficult questions, every well functioning organization requires that it develops a thoughtful succession plan by asking these questions:

  1. Have we identified people within our current system who we think can someday lead   this organization?
  2. Are we prepared to invest in people, knowing they may leave when the doors of opportunity open elsewhere?
  3. Do we have a crises succession plan?
  4. Have we strategically determined that when the time comes for succession, whether we want to look broadly outside or focus on a seamless internal transition?
  5. If we have been blessed with a longtime leader (more than 15 years) have we seriously considered putting in place an interim director to bridge the transition and ultimately help the permanent new leader succeed?

No organization should ever have to suffer the tragedy of the above mentioned school (although regretfully workplace violence continues to rise). Nevertheless events like the above reinforces that while we can’t plan for every circumstance, we can plan for the inevitable. No leader (including clergy) will stay forever (nor should they). How we align our resources and plan for this (even if the plan sits on a shelf and is revisited periodically), will dictate whether our institutions don’t miss a beat when the inevitable occurs and a new leader is needed.

Leadership change is never easy but its potential negative impact can be mitigated through thoughtful and advance planning. This is truly the sign of a healthy and strong organization.

*The above is based on an actual event that took place about a year ago.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Running Your Way to Change – What Marathons Teach about Successful Change Efforts

Mile 19. My legs were aching and my head was screaming, “You can do it!! “No you can’t!”

If you had told me, a non-runner my entire life, that I would be doing, let alone completing a marathon I would probably have laughed. Nonetheless, two weeks ago, at the age of almost 55, I completed my first marathon – 26.2 long, hard, brutal miles. I had set this goal about a year and a half ago and had been working three-four days a week to accomplish this major task before year’s end.

This column is not a runner’s musings. Rather, in preparing for and completing the race, I came to learn that a marathon (all 26.2 miles or 425 miles of training) is the perfect metaphor for understanding how businesses and organizations can successfully change. Here are just three of the major lessons I came to recognize:

1)      Preparing for a marathon takes time. There are absolutely NO shortcuts to success. While there is the rare athlete who can decide tomorrow to run 26.2 miles, most people need to train. Training takes time. To successfully complete a marathon one needs to do multiple weekly runs and ever-increasing long endurance runs. To train for this marathon, I was on the Galloway 29 week program. For someone like me who wants everything yesterday, if not last week, the idea of working toward a goal half a year away or longer is an enigma.  So too, it is with change efforts. CEO’s and Board Chairs want change today. They generally don’t want to hear that it will take longer than they want and that multiple steps MUST be followed.

Successful change efforts are always based on following critical steps that need to be taken at the right time and in the right order. This takes time. To circumvent any of them is to risk ultimate failure. In running, if you don’t follow the plan, you get injured. In business (including nonprofits) you lose members, clients, staff, good will and potentially even your very existence. Unlike Apollo 13, failure is an option, and a very real one at that.  If you want to complete the marathon you follow the program. If you want to be successful at changing how you do business you HAVE to take the necessary time and follow the well documented and appropriate steps.

2)      Hydrating and fueling your body are essential to running a marathon.  As runners go farther and farther, the need for fluids and energy increases exponentially. To ignore this biological fact is to risk running failure and bodily harm.

It is no different in business. Successful and effective change processes also need “fuel” and “hydration” to provide power and endurance to the change effort. These include: communicating what is happening, empowering others to act on the vision and planning and creating short terms wins (“Yes, I can get over that hill”).  If these “fueling” actions are ignored, or implemented too late, then like a body starved for energy in the marathon, the change effort will collapse and fail well short of the finish line.

3)      The most important training element for anyone running a marathon is the endurance run. This is the weekly or bi-weekly run in which runners gradually add a couple of miles each time until they have the endurance to complete the marathon. Building up endurance requires increased muscle, aerobic and lung capacity, greater quantities of fuel and hydration and lots and lots of time. This is what provides the body with the strength to accomplish the goal.

Change efforts parallel endurance runs.  Endurance runs and change efforts are not always fun, they consume lots of time and energy and they take a physical and emotional toll. Nevertheless, just as long runs lead to endurance, sticking with the change effort over time, affirming the change processes and communicating change successes build up an organization’s endurance and the reservoirs of positive strength that are needed to ensure successful change.

In 1976 an estimated 25,000 people completed marathons in the United States. In 2011, that number was in excess of 550,000. In 1976 few spoke about change, today, there is not an industry that doesn’t embrace the need to change. Today more people have figured out how to successfully run marathons. Many, however, still need to figure out how to successfully implement change in their organizations. Success, like completing a marathon is possible….it just takes the endurance, attitude and determination to do it the right way. The first step is difficult. The finish line is glorious.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment