Podcast: How to Assess Whether Your Board is Ready for a Campaign
Season 3, Episode 9
In this episode, Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt share their thoughts about how to assess your board’s readiness for a capital campaign. Are they committed? Do they know what the campaign is about? And, are they going to be willing to help? Download the readiness assessment for free.
How would you know if your board and your board members are ready for a capital campaign or not ready for a capital campaign? That’s what we’re going to discuss in just a moment.
Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein. I’m here with my colleague Andrea Kihlstedt, and we are going to talk about getting your board ready for a campaign and really knowing whether or not your board is ready for a campaign. So Andrea, what are some of the indicators that you look for in determining whether or not a board is ready to head into a campaign?
So you know what? Some of these things are just really simple, but they’re so important. When you and I put the Online Toolkit together, we actually spent a fair amount of time coming up with an assessment — a board readiness assessment. So Amy and I have pulled that up. We’re going to look at it with you.
Key Indicators: Is Your Board Ready for a Campaign?
So one of the simplest things that would be an indicator of whether your board is ready is whether the majority of your board members regularly attend board meetings. Now, that doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with a capital campaign, does it? Except that if you have a board and no one ever shows up at board meetings, I promise you, your board is not ready for a capital campaign or very much else.
So [that’s] a key indicator. Do people show up at board meetings?
- Do they care?
- Are they involved [and] engaged?
- And one indicator is whether or not they show up.
If you have a board where people just don’t care enough to come, it’s a red flag, you have a problem.
And people might not be willing to say they don’t care, but if they don’t show up at a lot of board meetings, I promise you the way they act is a key indicator of how they feel. So look at that.
Board Attendance Matters
As simple as it is, look at your board attendance. If your board attendance is off, if board members are not showing up at meetings, you probably have a bigger problem than a capital campaign. But if your board isn’t functioning well, it is not ready for a capital campaign.
Yeah, they’re not just going to magically start attending campaign committee meetings or anything else just because you’re having a campaign. Alright, let’s move on.
The next thing we look at is whether or not all your board members are making annual financial contributions. And I know that this is a hot topic these days as to whether or not board members should contribute, but we believe that heading into a capital campaign, every board member needs to make a financial contribution that is in line with their own personal budget and finances, and we want them participating as well.
Board Giving Matters Too
It’s a financial contribution — they need to lead by example, and also make a contribution so that the rest of the community understands that this is an important part of this organization.
Yeah, it’s so interesting to think about what happens when someone, anyone makes a financial contribution. Because it is a step in the commitment cycle, it is an indicator of commitment. And while the money in itself may not be significant or important in terms of the larger amount of money the organization raises, what we’re looking for is how committed board members are to their institution.
And when we see an organization where every board member makes a contribution that is, for them, a serious contribution, something they’ve really thought about, that’s an indicator to us that not only do they show up at board meetings indicating commitment, but they actually dip into their own pockets or their own resources, further indicating commitment.
And that’s really what we’re looking for. Are your board members fully committed to your organization? And they need to be in order to be ready for a campaign.
Now, I just want to acknowledge one more time, I know that there’s some dissent about this in the field, and we have given it some serious thought. And I understand that in different cultures and different communities, there’s different thought processes on that.
And so you will have to make decisions as an organization and as a board about what’s appropriate in your community and for your organization. There are exceptions, but the rule is, in capital campaigns, that board members should be contributing both time and resources.
Board Fundraising Participation
Alright, let’s talk about board members participating in fundraising. Because it’s one thing to make a gift, it’s another thing to actively engage in fundraising. Now, I understand that not every board member is going to be a great solicitor or asker of gifts. However, we do want every board member playing a role in fundraising.
So whether that means they’re helping identify donors or cultivating donors or steward donors, we want board members, or there to be a system and a structure and a culture of board members actively participating in fundraising.
Once again, if I bring it back to commitment, it’s one thing to show up at meetings, it’s one thing to write a check or make a contribution. It’s another level of commitment to be willing to go out and ask people for help, for money, for resources for your organization. That’s a further sign of commitment because if you go and ask someone else for something, you ask a friend or a colleague or a leader in the community, you have to be fully on board to do that.
So again, we keep doubling down on this idea that your board members must be committed, and these are the ways in which we look at and test their commitment about whether they’re willing to do these things.
Get Capital Campaign Pro’s Board Readiness Assessment
Yeah. Andrea and I are looking at our board readiness assessment, and if you would like a free copy, I would encourage you to go over to our website, capitalcampaignpro.com. And go into the resources section under ”Board Resources”, and you’re going to be able to download for free our board member readiness assessment to test your own board.
And the way that we recommend that you do that is hand out a one-page, sort of a very basic, simple checklist that asks board members:
- Are we doing these things?
- Are we doing them somewhat?
- Are we not doing these things?
And really, I always encourage organizations, if you’re not going to give it to the whole board, to give it to the board president and maybe the newest board member, and see where the differences are in terms of their answers.
I mean, ideally you should give it to a handful of board members or all your board members, but really seeing is there a difference in perception in terms of what people do or what you’re good at? And then you’ll know very quickly what you need to work on or where your strengths and weaknesses are in your board before you head into a campaign.
I think it’s a great idea, Amy. I never thought about it, to get your board chair and the newest board member. That’s really an interesting shortcut.
Yeah, you’re going to see if you’ve onboarded them well, if they have a good sense of what’s going on. And if the board chair thinks you’re doing all things great, and a board member who’s been there for less than six months doesn’t have a clue, you have some work to do, right?
Now, I don’t expect the newest board member to be as up-to-date and accurate as the board chair, but you might say to them, “Alright, this is where we need more orientation, more shoring up of what the expectations are, more mentoring, whatever it is.” And it will strengthen your board when you look at that way.
Other Board Readiness Indicators
So let’s go back to this question of whether your board is ready for a campaign, and we can break it down into two or three big categories:
- One, as we’ve discussed is commitment.
- [The other] is whether the project is ready, whether you know what you’re going to do in a campaign.
So [some] of the questions we ask [are]:
- Do you have a strategic plan?
- Has it been discussed and accepted by your board?
- Does the board know what the campaign is going to be raising money for? And if the board does not understand that project and its ramifications, if the board doesn’t understand what you’re going to be raising money for, well, guess what?
You are not yet ready for a capital campaign. So we go from commitment and board member’s commitment to, alright, how much does the board really know and understand about the project for the campaign?
And then of course, the third piece is, alright, they understand the project. Are they fully supportive of it? Are they going to be willing to support that particular project and are they going to be willing to help with that project?
So those are really the three things, and we can break them down into smaller questions, but those are the three things we’re looking at.
What if Your Board is NOT Ready?
That’s right. I mean, one really dangerous thing to do is head into a capital campaign and all your board members are not on board. There’s dissent or disagreement, and you really do want everybody in general rowing in the same direction. And even if it takes some negotiating, discussing, modifying of plans, you do ultimately want all board members saying:
“Yes, we’re on board with this. It’s the right direction for the organization. We agree with the project or the programs and the direction we’re moving in.”
If you have a board member, two, or a handful who are not on board with the idea of a capital campaign, they either need to step off the campaign, or the board, I should say, or get on board. Because you really don’t want that internal dissent heading into a big fundraising project like this is.
And many organizations, when they lose board members, feel like it’s a loss. They feel like they’ve somehow not functioned well if board members are leaving. I’ve always felt like it’s an opportunity.
There’s nothing like an empty board seat or two or three to have an opportunity to bring in people who are stronger, more committed, more powerful in their community, who have better leadership skills. I get excited when people step off a board, when mediocre board members step off a board. That’s really a wonderful chance for you to say:
“Alright, we are moving into a campaign that is going to boost this organization to the next level of function. Who are the people that we should bring on that will match our new level of function, not our current level of function? “
So don’t worry if some of your board members, after some discussion about a campaign, decide that this isn’t the right time for them with your organization. Ideally, if you have a third of your board members who aren’t functional and they all step off, that’s time to celebrate.
Yeah. Now, listen, let’s say for example, one of those board members is one of your bigger donors or your biggest donor, then it gives everybody pause. But the reality is, if they are not on board with the project, they’re not going to make a big gift anyways, and they’re just going to cause trouble, and everybody’s going to be trying to maneuver around them, and there’s going to be a lot of tap dancing.
So when people stand up and say, “I don’t want to be here for this project,” and the staff is on board and the majority of the board is on board, and the strategic plan has been approved, let those dissenters go. It will be better for everybody in the long run, and you won’t be sorry.
Amy, there may also be a situation that is more positive than that.
Let’s say that one of your largest donors has been on the board for a long time, and you can tell that it’s feeling burdensome for them to be doing that. So a campaign is an opportunity to go to that person and say:
“Your board service has been terrific. Your financial contributions have been terrific. And I know you want to see this organization thrive in the future. Perhaps you would step into the role of campaign chair or honorary chair, and then we would fill your position on the board. You could help us select people to fill your position on the board.”
So you might use that as an opportunity. It may be that that wealthy person is tired of serving on the board, would like an opportunity to step down, but doesn’t want to be disruptive. So you can use it in that way also.
I think that’s so important.
I think we’ve given people a lot of food for thought, hopefully. The bottom line is it’s important to assess your board’s readiness before you head into a campaign. You really want them to be as ready as they can be.
There’s no perfect board and nobody’s ever a hundred percent ready. But what the readiness assessment does is really helps you identify areas of weakness that you can work on over the next six months or a year as you head into your campaign.
So if you haven’t already, go to capitalcampaignpro.com, head over to the resources section of the website, and look for ”Boards”. You’re going to find it really easily, the board readiness assessment, and you can download it absolutely free. Alright.
I think we’re good for today, Andrea.
I do. Thanks, Amy. It’s always fun to do this with you. And thank you for listening to our podcast and for telling other people about it. And we hope to see you next time.
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