Another Great Reason to Diversify Your Board

Another Great Reason to Diversify Your Board

 

26 March 2024

 

By David Allen, Development for Conservation

 

How did you come to be on the Board?

Well, I’ve known _______ for years, and when she asked me to be on the Board, it sounded like fun.

Think back on that conversation. Did she ask you to fill a role? Or fill a seat?

I don’t remember discussing a specific role.

 

And that’s how many land trust Board positions are filled. Someone they’ve known for years leans on them and tells them that it would be fun to work with them. The default criteria seem to be personal connection and availability.

The result is homogeneity – everyone comes from the same social circles. And to some degree, the organization becomes associated with those social circles and supported by those social circles. Growing larger, becoming relevant to other circles, and eliciting support just outside those circles becomes increasingly difficult. It’s comfortable but limiting.

 

An important concept in fundraising is that of “access” to current and potential donors. Access in this context implies that if you send someone an email or leave a voice message, it will be returned. Each of us has a circle of friends, family, business colleagues, and so on that we have “access” to. We bring that access along with us to our jobs and volunteer activities. However, that access isn’t automatically transferable to a land trust or other nonprofit; it needs to be exercised by the person it belongs to.

We can also think of individual people as having access to the social circles – or communities – to which they belong. They may not know everyone in the community, but being from the community includes some access to the community. Doctors will respond more readily to other doctors, parishioners to other parishioners, and neighbors to other neighbors. Some talk about this kind of access using words like “social equity” and even “street cred.”

 

Organizational access is represented by the collective sum of the access each individual staff or board director is willing to bring to the cause. I think that when we discuss board recruitment, one of the criteria should be access – both to specific donors and to diverse communities. When new directors represent substantially new access and are willing to exercise that access on behalf of the organization, the organization becomes measurably stronger. When new directors essentially duplicate the access already available to the board, the opportunity to grow organizational access is lost.

Access can be abused, of course, and eventually lost completely. Relationships can be squandered, bridges burned. And they can take years or even decades to restore. Conversely, access can also be cultivated and developed. It can grow and flourish.

 

As a general rule, directors have greater access to donors than staff. They are “peers”. (The Executive Director is a notable exception and often has access equal to or even greater than board directors. This access is generally through relationships built with donors over time.)

In seeking to build relationships and raise money from members and donors, staff often get frustrated that they cannot get an appointment, or sometimes even a return call. They don’t have “access.”

I’ve seen this lead to an unfortunate negative spiral: fundraising staff who understand their job is to raise money see their inability to gain access to donors as a sign of professional weakness. Consequently, they don’t ask for help.

Meanwhile directors don’t offer help. “We hired staff, so we wouldn’t need to help raise money.” Some did not have a clear expectation that they would help raise money, but rather expected they would just help spend money wisely. Others may be reluctant to exercise the access they enjoy to address the needs of the organization. Staff members spend more and more time protecting their jobs. Directors grow increasingly frustrated that staff members aren’t getting the job done. Eventually staff find greener pastures or are dismissed.

Both groups need to change their paradigm. Development staff need to take advantage of the access that opens up for them to be sure. They also need to see their job as facilitating the work of board directors and helping them cultivate and develop the donors to whom they have access toward the highest organizational benefit.

Board directors represent their communities on the Board. But they should also find opportunities to represent the organization back into their communities. They should serve as ambassadors. And they should hold each other collectively accountable for using the access they have to bring new resources to the organization. The Executive Director can and must do both.

 

Love to hear your thoughts.

 

Cheers and Have a Good Week!

 

-da

 

PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.

 

Photo by hums courtesy Pixabay

 

 

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