Board Leadership

By James A. Donovan • April 12th, 2010

Board Leadership Must Lead Your Financial Turnaround

How to Find, Enlist and Motivate Leadership

Recently I attended a memorial service for a local banker who was a pillar of Central Florida. He started out as a bank teller and rose to become CEO. The late Buell Duncan of SunTrust was a real gentleman and chief cheerleader for our region. He was the Chairman of the Board of the University of Central Florida Foundation in Orlando where I served as Executive Director in the early 80’s.

This made me recall how many bankers over the years I have had the good fortune to work with in several states. I learned in Fund Raising 101 years ago; don’t attempt a major community fund raising campaign without the leadership of a local banker, as bankers have clout and connections. Their phone calls are returned. They lean on their best and most successful customers to “give” to the community. And more importantly, they know where the money is.

Today the media is watching and reporting on bankers more than ever due to the Federal bailout of banks, thereby shrinking the pool of available board leadership. Nonprofit boards will always recruit bankers to their boards. However, in today’s environment they have to look beyond this traditional and dependable source of leaders.

Having a powerful board is always a plus. Engaging and motivating it is even better. Clearly this is a top priority today according to a recent survey conducted by the Nonprofit Finance Fund of 1,300 nonprofit leaders as reported in the March 25th issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy. It noted that 60% of respondents ranked engaging the board as the best way to respond to budget shortfalls.

So how do you find, enlist and engage/motivate board leadership given the current market conditions?

Why not start with these qualifying questions to find board leadership:

• Which companies are driving the economy of your region?
• Who is on their top management team?
• What skill set do you need for transforming your organization in the future?
• Do these executives have those skills and talents?
• What other boards have they served on that are similar to your own?
• Can they provide access to key prospects and donors on your Master List?
• Will they make a significant corporate or personal gift as a board member?
• Will they ask others for major gifts to your organization?

What is the best way to enlist board leadership?

• By having a current or former board member who is a major customer or client of the company ask for an appointment.

• At the meeting, show the board candidate the list of current and former board members, particularly those who are customers or clients of his company. Familiarity breeds success.

• Explain the reasons why you are inviting the candidate to serve on your board.

• Outline expectations of board members, using Peter Drucker’s model in his book, Managing the Nonprofit Organization.

Board members serve as:

• Ambassadors to communicate the message and case of the organization.

• Consultants to provide their expertise in key areas.

• Governors to oversee the work of the organization.

• Sponsors to provide financial resources to fund the organization’s work.

• Don’t dwell on fund raising as a board member. That’s a given. Emphasize mission over money, as money follows mission.

Motivating the Board

• In all my years in this profession, nothing motivates the board more than a carefully planned and executed board retreat. It energizes everyone.

• Another way is to invite a guest speaker to address the board on issues and trends facing your sector of the nonprofit world.

• Tell a success story of how your organization changed a life. Let the client/customer tell his/her story prior to a regularly scheduled board meeting.

• Feature board members in your advertising as people who are making a difference in your community. Remember, people relate to people, not causes or needs. Who serves on your board is something to celebrate/feature.

• Constantly recognize and acknowledge the 3 D’s of your board members — their dedication, deeds and diligence.

For more ideas on motivating the board, check out my book, 50 Ways to Motivate Your Board, A Guide for Nonprofit Executives at:


By Beth Brunner on April 15th, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Hi James.

Great story/article…perfect timing. Hope you are well.

As always,Jim, you hit the nail on the head. Leadership from Board Members is vital to the sucess of a non-profit. People do relate to people. Thanks for keeping me on your list. I continue to learn from you. Do come to the Garden Theatre to see Joseph. It is a wonderful show. You will be very pleased with the production. Bert and I will be there on May 13th. Can you join us at 7 pm for a glass of wine on the mezanine and the show at 8pm? Barbara


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