Occasionally, I confidently am told by education or non-profit governing board members that they serve on a “working board.” This statement is most often uttered as the follow-up to another less self-confident admission – namely that the board is not one that focuses on the topic of philanthropy.
During these conversations, I am reminded that the concept of a “working board” can get skewed by well-meaning but unhelpful board members. Specifically, when board members accentuate the nobleness of “work,” they strangely leave out of their definition any aspect of philanthropic work. As if getting more major gifts in the door in support of your mission is not “real work.” Instead, the concept of a “working board” usually refers to members who provide their volunteer time as their primary gift to the institution.
The problem, of course, is not that being a “working” board is an ineffectual way for a governing board to operate. The problem is that the highest, most effective form of “work” for non-profit boards occurs in the philanthropic vineyard! The most important job a board member can do is to advance your institutional mission and vision by partnering with paid staff members to increase philanthropic gift income.
So, the next time you hear a governing board member lift up their “working board” status as a way to deflect the conversation from board giving and the board’s responsibility to provide philanthropic leadership for the institution, please feel free to share with them the top 5 ways all boards should “work:”
- Participate in a peer screen session and alert the institution to donor prospects who have annual, major, and/or planned gift potential;
- Arrange for an institutional leader to make a presentation at their local civic, community, church, workplace, or other venue;
- Accompany development personnel on cultivation and/or solicitation visits with those donors or prospects with whom they have influence;
- Host a dinner or event at their home, civic or country club, workplace, or other venue with the purpose to introduce new major donor prospects or board members to the institution’s leadership;
- When called upon, speak publicly with passion and authenticity about the reason why they are involved and the difference your institution makes in the world.
Showing up for board meetings, participating in committee work, and volunteering to assist with special events does not fully qualify as the definition of “board work.” Instead, governing board members should be encouraged to help their institutions reach their far edge of promise by rolling up their sleeves and engaging in the real work of philanthropy. Not only will the results be significant, but board members will find this work much more meaningful.