Honestly, is your Board of Directors your secret weapon or biggest headache as a CEO or Executive Director of a nonprofit organization?

We all know the story of the board that does not perform at the level the Executive Director and the organization need, the frustration with unsuccessfully eliciting more commitment and engagement from board members, the painful board meetings where the ED does all the talking.

Let’s change that.

If the board is not your secret weapon catapulting you towards higher and higher levels of fundraising and program impact…keep reading.

Richard Gottlieb, Senior Services of Forsyth County’s recently retired Executive Director knows how to create such a board.  (Read more about Senior Service’s growth in this earlier post based on a generous interview with Richard early this year.)  Richard had a simple goal: “to develop the best board in town.”

The Nominating Committee

As Richard sees it, “The Nominating Committee is often the most important committee of any nonprofit agency.  Through the Nominating Committee, we tried to identify the strongest individuals in our community and who on our board was the best person to ask them to join the Senior Services board. “

There was a mantra he kept repeating to the board members that, with work, eventually became true: “Senior Services has the best board in town.”   And the powerful board opened their hearts to the mission, opened doors, and opened their wallets.

Nurturing a Board of Generous, Committed, and Dedicated Leaders 

To hear Richard talk, the steps he took to create this board were simple.

He was always looking for ways to create and say ‘yes’ to opportunities that would further the mission of the agency with the help of the board and staff.  These opportunities spoke to people’s hearts.

One board member was inspired enough to make a very significant investment in the organization’s first capital campaign to help people with Alzheimer’s disease.   This was a pivotal turning point for Senior Services.  It was the seed that created a board culture where every board member made a significant gift – monetary or otherwise.   Richard accepted this first gift and, indeed, others began to follow in turn.  Board members asked each other to give.  It became an expectation of being on this Board.

In Richard’s last $5.5 million capital campaign, $1.2 million came from personal donations of board members!  Their personal commitments made it much easier for Board members to approach others for significant donations.

A board member who was a senior executive in corporate marketing volunteered to help re-brand the organization.  This gave Richard a whole new avenue and appreciation for marketing.  They got so creative this became a major focus for him until he retired.

Becoming a Cutting-Edge Provider and Committing to Excellent Donor Return on Investment

Another board member developed a special event that significantly surpassed its fundraising goal and catapulted the organization forward in terms of its position and reach as a cutting-edge provider of senior services with impact in the community.  Her idea was to provide scholarship funds for those seniors wanting to attend day programs at Senior Services so that no one would be turned away.  This turned into an annual event raising over $300,000 last year.

Once Senior Services began to attract more significant funding, the organization demonstrated donors’ ‘return on investment’ in multiple and measurable ways as they improved the lives of the most vulnerable seniors in the community.  They committed to eliminating the waiting list for Meals On Wheels.  This simple goal alone became a huge fundraising campaign led by the board.

As success deepened, it became easier to recruit great people, and they, in turn, brought new opportunities for consideration allowing Senior Services to grow even more.

Presented with these opportunities, Richard strove to take full advantage of them over time and through slow, steady progress.

When Richard saw the potential of working more closely with the board, he began to give it a lot more attention.  The organization developed a strong board selection and orientation process.

During Richard’s tenure, a second organization, The Senior Services Foundation, was created enabling him to engage in more board relationships to work with and leverage.  Today, between the two organizations, there are sixty-six active board members who whole-heartedly support Senior Services.  People are downright eager to get on these boards.

Richard took full advantage of the precious face time he got with board members during scheduled meetings – always looking for ways to inspire them and make them feel good about their time and financial contributions.

A CEO Focused on Fostering a Positive, Meaningful Experience for Board Members and Staff

Richard was always asking himself “Are they having a good experience here?  How can I make this board service one of the best experiences possible for them?”

Having served on several boards, in my experience, I am not sure the Executive Directors of those organizations ever had that thought!  This genuine intention created a board that can and does move mountains for Senior Services.

Richard further opined, “People are looking for meaningful purpose in their lives and to make a positive difference in their community.  If nonprofit directors can provide board members with an opportunity to be part of meaningful change that is a powerful motivator for involvement.”

Richard also believes that building relationships is less about what people think of you, as how they think of themselves when they are around you.  So a question for executive directors is: “How does a board member think of themselves when they are around me?”

Richard found if board members felt listened to, affirmed, and respected, they wanted to do more, they wanted to give more, thus deepening their engagement with the organization and with him.

This intention supported Richard’s growing ability to intuitively and successfully communicate with board members and key donors with empathy.  These critical conversations encouraged board members to perform at their best.

Next up: Look out for  our next post “How Senior Services successfully grew their internal team and developed an amazing culture that breeds success.”

It is hard to capture Richard’s experience in 1,000 words.  Would you like to meet Richard in person and learn more?  Join us Sept. 14th, 2017 for a very special Round Table for CEOs and Executive Directors.  This is an opportunity for a confidential open discussion where you will hear more from Richard and have the opportunity to ask Richard questions that might support you in strengthening your board.  Click here to learn more and register.