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Andrea McManus, ViTreo Group Inc
September 17th 2019

After a relaxing summer and a fun season opener, The Provocateur is once again setting out to …well, provoke. To disrupt current thinking, to spark innovation and to foster change in how we as fundraisers and not for profits make a difference. Our role in society is vitally important - we touch on so many segments: food, education, health, disaster relief and much more. And in our rapidly changing world, it also falls to us to help our boards move into the future. We need to expect more of them, and we need to show them the way.

How can we accomplish that? One of the big gaps I see is in board governance; over the years I’ve observed there is significant confusion about it.

Photo Credit: FreePik

Photo Credit: FreePik


What Is It? Why Is It Important? Why Do We Need To Be Concerned?

Nonprofit governance serves two purposes for an organization - achieving its social mission and creating sustainability. There’s much more to it, of course, and that will provide the focus of this and our upcoming blogs in this series. Yet boards often focus, in my experience, only on the financial or operating aspects, with little to no strategy, understanding of the mission or support for the organization. All of which are needed to fulfill their own purpose.

When we see statements contained in reports such as this one from the Chartered Accountants of Canada Directors Briefing Series, the message to our sector is clear. We need to do a better job of working with our boards and their members.

“For not-for-profit organizations (NFPs), governance is increasingly in the spotlight. Stakeholders and the general public are demanding more transparency and accountability regarding the oversight of organizations of all kinds. Despite this intensifying focus on governance, many NFP directors do not fully appreciate the extent of their oversight responsibility.” (Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, Governance for Not-for-Profit Organizations: Questions for Directors to Ask, Don Taylor, 2014)

From the American organization, BoardSource, (which has a mission to inspire and support excellence in nonprofit governance and board and staff leadership): 

“Board Advocacy and Ambassadorship

The most successful nonprofits understand that advocacy is a powerful lever for real impact. And yet - according to BoardSource’s Leading with Intent survey - only 33 percent of nonprofits report that their board members are actively involved in advocating for their missions, and many organizations aren’t advocating at all.” (BoardSource, Research & Critical Issues, September 2019)

So…thud. Boards are critical to foundation and nonprofit organizational impact. When I see numbers like the one above (33 percent), I want to smack myself on the forehead and ask myself why we’re missing the boat on this? (Next week’s blog should be on the overuse of cliches in blogging…)

Clearly we are not helping our boards to be more effective. This needs to be rectified. And soon.

“When it comes to the board’s perceived impact on foundation performance, there are three board characteristics that may matter most:

1. providing guidance and support to the chief executive,

2. the board’s understanding of its roles and responsibilities, and

3. the extent to which the board is adaptable in the face of changes in the environment.”

- BoardSource, Foundation Board Leadership: A Closer Look at Foundation Board Responses to Leading with Intent 2017 (Washington, D.C.: BoardSource, 2019)

Photo Credit:  Fired Up Fundraising

Photo Credit: Fired Up Fundraising


I think The Association of Fundraising Professionals' Gail Perry nails the many issues we face with our boards in an article from which I've summarized several points (definitely worth reading the entire article):

#1: We don’t educate board members about fundraising and how it works.

Many fundraisers feel their board members have no idea of what we do and how we do it. They think it is easy. When we attempt to explain the complexity, restrictions or length of time it takes, they tune out. My experience is this: if board members don’t understand fundraising and how it works, how can they possibly be helpful?

#2: We don’t discuss expectations well in advance.

Ah, the Board Member Expectations Form! Board members usually sign the form cheerfully. But then what happens to it? It sits quietly sleeping in the corner. Never discussed. Never brought out into the light. But when it is not discussed or made public, it can disappear. It’s easy to ignore something that is forgotten.

Then when we ask them to help in fundraising, they say, “Eeeek! We didn’t sign up for this!”

#3: We don’t give them enough structure and support in their fundraising activities.

We often expect our trustees to perform with too little preparation and backup. We tend to forget that they are volunteers. They are not the pros that we are. They really do need structure and support. We can’t expect them to host coffees in their homes, sell tables for our gala or even make thank you calls to donors - without training, and a formal structure. It’s up to the pros (that’s us!) to lead them.

#4: Thinking that fundraising is all about “asking for money.”

Many board members are really confused about fundraising. Over and over, they think fundraising equals “asking for money.” They have so much fear about - the money part and the asking part. But we all know that fundraising is not like that in the 21st century - it’s all about the long-term relationship.

#5: Emergency fundraising, not long-term relationships.

I am all for a sense of urgency when raising funds. But all too often it takes a crisis to mobilize our board members. Suddenly fundraising is something important - something we need to focus on. In a crisis, often the conversation becomes all about money rather than about the great work our organization is doing for the community good.

(Fired Up Fundraising, 5 Fundraising Mistakes We Make With Our Boards, Gail Perry, September 2019)

So, What’s A Nonprofit To Do? And What Should Boards Be Working Towards?

BoardSource has this to say:

The nonprofit boards best equipped to lead their organizations are self-aware, function in constructive partnership with their chief executives, and are committed to continually improving their performance. Boards can improve their effectiveness by the intentional adoption of good governance practices.

- BoardSource, Foundation Board Leadership: A Closer Look at Foundation Board Responses to Leading with Intent 2017 (Washington, D.C.: BoardSource, 2019)

What issues have you run into with your board? And have you been able to find a solution? What have you found to be helpful?

Foundation Board Leadership ends with these key reflections:

As your board considers how it can invest in its own leadership, consider the following, whether as a part of a governance committee discussion or a full board meeting:

  • How aligned are we with recommended governance practices from BoardSource and other leaders in the field? Is there anything that we are doing (or not doing) that we’d be uncomfortable with others knowing? Is there anything we should consider changing as a result?

  • Does our board set an example that other boards might follow, whether they are our foundation peers, our grantees, or other organizations? If so, why? If not, why not?

  • Are we asking or expecting anything of our grantees that we are not also asking of ourselves? If we were to ask ourselves the same questions that we ask about grantee (or potential grantee) governance and leadership, is there anything about our own responses that would flag concerns if a grantee were to respond similarly?

  • Is it important to us as a foundation to be transparent about our own practices and strategies? What are the benefits - both to us and others - of being open about what we are learning and practicing as a foundation?

(BoardSource, Foundation Board Leadership: A Closer Look at Foundation Board Responses to Leading with Intent 2017 (Washington, D.C.: BoardSource, 2019))

BoardSource also offers these two excellent resources:

Imagine Canada also offers a comprehensive set of standards for boards and governance, along with best practices for other areas in the fundraising sector: Imagine Canada, Board Governance Standards, September 2019

As fundraisers and not for profit organizations, we need to work with our boards - a strong understanding of programs is linked to stronger engagement, strategy, and external leadership - including fundraising.

The board’s knowledge of the organization’s programs relates to board performance in several key areas:

•       strategic thinking and planning,

•       commitment and engagement, and

•       fundraising and community outreach.

This points to the importance of cultivating a deep understanding of the organization’s programs and operating environment through ongoing board education. (BoardSource, Foundation Board Leadership: A Closer Look at Foundation Board Responses to Leading with Intent 2017 (Washington, D.C.: BoardSource, 2019))

 From the 2013 Underdeveloped Study on not for profits

 Accountability for Fundraising Results

The development director’s success is inextricably linked to staff, executive director, and board success. One of the tenets of a culture of philanthropy is deep and passionate engagement across the organization, which translates into shared accountability for the organization achieving its fundraising goals. Executive directors should consider setting clear expectations for staff other than the development director - identifying specific activities in which all can participate. One simple mechanism to reinforce accountability is to include development goals in the annual performance evaluation process for staff. Just as important, board of directors - with strong leadership and modeling from the chair - should include fund development goal-setting as part of their own annual work planning and monitor their own performance regularly.

- Bell, Jeanne and Marla Cornelius, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising (San Francisco, CA: CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, 2013)

Photo Credit: Joyaux Associates, 2019

Photo Credit: Joyaux Associates, 2019


Next week, we are delighted, trés delighted, to welcome the always incredible and insightful Simone Joyaux, ACFRE, Adv Dip FAFP as a guest blogger. Simone is a consultant for nonprofits and NGOs: fund development, board development and strategic planning. We are thrilled to have her weighing in on boards on September 24 with her blog, 32 years of ranting about boards - Some big challenges and fixing them.

We can’t wait to read it! Thanks for dropping in again this year and please keep sending us your comments and feedback!

In season one of the BrainTrust Philanthropy podcast, Andrea McManus, Sharilyn Hale, and Simone Joyaux shared their expertise on Board Governance in the episode, If You’ve Seen One Board…You’ve ONLY Seen One Board. Listen to it today.



Andrea McManus, Chair, Board of Directors, Partner
ViTreo Group Inc

Andrea McManus is a Partner with ViTreo with over 30 years’ experience in fund development, marketing, sponsorship and nonprofit management. A highly strategic thinker and change maker, Andrea has worked with organizations that span the nonprofit sector with particular focus on building long-term and sustainable capacity. 

Andrea McManusComment