Much has been written and said about the roles for board members today, their fiduciary responsibilities, and effective models for board governance. Clearly, the board's first role is to govern the organization. Yet that is often not how it feels to board members. While they may have been recruited for their particular area of expertise, influence, or contacts, board members know that sooner or later they will be asked to do the dreaded thing the organization needs most: fundraising. Most often this looks like buying or selling tickets to the organization's fundraising social events and soliciting their friends and colleagues for money, either by letter or in person.
The typical scenario looks something like this:
The nominating committee of your board starts by identifying the categories of expertise needing to be filled on the board. For example, you may be looking for someone with experience in human resources, real estate, finance, public relations, or fundraising. Each potential board member is checked out thoroughly, courted, and then invited to join the board. Your organization is thrilled when they accept.
Each new board member reads over the written agreement listing what is expected of them. You even make sure they see all the fine print about their fundraising responsibilities. Perhaps your organization has a minimum giving expectation for the board, or a "give, get, or get off" policy. Whatever your expectations, you do your best to communicate them clearly to each new board member before they agree to serve.
Now, as your fresh and eager new recruit arrives at one of her first board meetings, ready to fill the "CPA slot," for example, one of the main agenda items is, of course, fundraising. It just happens to be the time of year for the big annual banquet, golf tournament, or fund drive. Before she has even been oriented to the basics of being on the board, the new member is being asked to do the part she dreaded most. Yes, she did know this was coming eventually, and she did agree to help. So she takes a deep breath and scans her address book for her five closest friends or colleagues who cannot refuse her. After all, she has helped them in similar times of need.
Think for a moment about how it feels for her friends to be on the receiving end of one of those Asks. In most cases, those friends cannot say no. Their relationship with your board member, whether professional or personal, would make it very awkward to refuse. In their minds, their contribution is more akin to a business expense.
The times I have been "strong-armed" by my friends on other boards, I have had to say yes. But as soon as my friend goes off that board, I stop giving to that organization. It is not because it was a bad organization. On the contrary, they were almost certainly doing very good work. Had they taken the time to educate and cultivate me personally, I could have become a lifelong supporter in my own right. But in their minds, I was my friend's contact so they left me alone, not wanting to intrude.