Last week I published the first part of my conversation with Neil, a strategist and fundraiser, which you can find by clicking here. This week I’d like to continue our discussion as the talk shifted to nonprofit leadership, management and donors.
You’ve spoken a lot about the changes and investments nonprofits need to make. Do you think executive directors and boards have an understanding of the headwinds ahead?
I think it’s along the same lines as what I described previously. The larger nonprofits do see the changes afoot and they’re making adjustments. They’re also reallocating resources and changing the narratives. So for example, they’re making a good investment in technology for proper reporting. They’re hiring the right people with the right level of expertise and understanding of the changing landscape. For instance, their nonprofit fundraisers have experience in social media. They understand how to partner with their marketing peers to deliver the right message from the digital space to the real world.
The smaller ones are where I see more challenges. Now, you do have those small and nimble organizations that totally get it and they know how to be agile and evolve. But then you have quite a number that are kind of stuck in the last century and they haven’t yet understood we’re nearly two decades into the 21st Century.
That’s one of the reasons I called my blog, Not Your Father’s Charity. I believe we can’t have business as usual. Tell me, Neil, what do you think of the quality of the boards you’re seeing out there as a consultant? Let’s focus on the smaller nonprofits, since the vast majority of charities are small.
I think a lot of small nonprofits have to do a lot of board development. This is not anything new. You have a whole lot of people who serve on boards and they have no idea what it means to do nonprofit governance.
I can’t tell you how many times I work with a small organization and I’m seeing board members approving marketing pieces. Why? Why in the world would nonprofit boards spend time doing that? That’s the responsibility of management and staff.
I think I’ve read this in your books, Wayne, and I agree with you; nonprofits should have a special meeting every year to train and remind their boards of their responsibilities. Boards have a fiduciary responsibility to the nonprofit they serve. That means they are responsible for the ethical, financial and legal workings of the organization. They could be held legally liable if they neglect their duties.
Boards also have oversight over the CEO or executive director. That doesn’t mean they have to do his or her job. I see that happen a lot. It’s more nuanced than that. It means they have to support the executive in seeing to it that he or she advances the mission.
What do you see in donors? I know that sometimes small mom and pop shops don’t engage with major donors because they seem to be in another world.
If you mean you’re dealing with people with different backgrounds than the rest of us, well you would be right. As I mentioned, I’ve dealt with a lot of people who are the CEOs of major international businesses.
Yes, to a certain extent, I think it would be disingenuous not to say that when you’re dealing with the top-level philanthropists, you’re working with people who have a different worldview than many people. You’re talking with and engaging people who have a global life. They fly from one city to another at a drop of a hat. They are usually well educated from the best schools in the country. Their homes are enormous, they have the finest art and they don’t lack for material goods. They have a lot. You see they have a lot. There’s no way around that.
However, I think it’s always important to keep things in perspective. These high-level donors are real people, albeit it with a lot more money than most of us. If they’re involved with charities, they are generous people. If they didn’t care about making the world better, they wouldn’t bother to give. A lot of wealthy people don’t give much or engage deeply with charity.
If you find a high-level person who becomes passionate about your organization, it’s a great opportunity. If you’re able to convey the story behind the work you do and they want to be involved, they’ll be a great advocate.
Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: How to Dominate Your Fundraising to Create Your Success” (Free Digital Download)
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