Tag Archives: Board

Why He Joined This Board (AKA The Importance of Time, Talent, and Treasure)

Board MemberI was in a meeting recently promoting 100% board participation in the annual fund when a board member stated, in no uncertain terms, that the board benefits from his expertise, he doesn’t also have to give financially. He doesn’t believe you have to give time, talent, and treasure.

I can think of multiple arguments as to why this is an incorrect view of the situation:

  • Board members should offer both financial support and thoughful counsel to a nonprofit – providing only one and not the other is only fulfilling half of a board member’s responsibility.
  • Organizations are asked about the percentage of board giving – if board members won’t fully commit financially – why should a foundation?
  • The member who only gives advice is relying on others to financially support the ideas he provides, implying that he doesn’t believe in them sufficiently to invest his own money in the vision.

But, in truth, I was left wondering, why he joined this board in the first place.

Anyone who works with nonprofits as staff or in a volunteer capacity knows that nonprofits are always encouraging and cultivating volunteers to serve on their board. This person, we’ll call him Joe, opted onto this board. Was it because he is passionate about the mission? Maybe his friends encouraged him? Or, possibly, he likes the way it rounds out his resume as someone who gives back?

Whatever the reason – passion, peer pressure, or prestige – he is rewarded for his participation. The idea that he thinks that his expertise is enough presumes that he is better suited, more of an expert, or simply more valuable than other members of the board. And while there may be extremely unique situations in which this is true, more often than not, even though the expertise and point of view are valuable additions, it is unlikely that his input would make or break an organization. There are other attorneys, financial experts, childcare professionals, social workers, or even nonprofit consultants to replace Joe.

If, on the other hand, the whole board decides to follow his lead and give only time and talent, it can break an institution. Nonprofits need philanthropic investment—the treasure—especially from every board member to do the good work they do.

So, the next time someone explains that their time and talent are enough of a gift, ask them if they really want to be on this board at this time. Explain that “one of the priorities of this board is 100% annual fund participation and I hope you can join me in supporting this organization that means so much to both of us. Indeed, one of the reasons I joined this board was to do and support its good work. And that takes money. Money that cannot be supported by membership or dues, money that comes for individual donors like the two of us.”

And, if you want to want to ensure every volunteer understands this from the start, make sure you list, “donor of meaningful gift” in your job description. Or a specific amount if that is what your board requires.

If you feel that you have no choice but to keep this person on, consider that there may be other reasons people are hesitant to join your board. And give us a call so we can help.

Originally published in 2016

Attention Board Members: 2 of 3 W’s Is Not Enough

Attention Board MembersLast week, in a meeting with a prospective board member, the person was surprised at the minimum I had mentioned as the suggested donation for her to join the board. In the past, nonprofits had said that as long as she was giving 2 of the the three W’s – Wisdom and Work, she often wasn’t asked to give the third – Wealth.

For many years that was the theory but here are 5 reasons to change that thinking.

  1. A small board. If your board has twelve members and four don’t give that is at the least a loss of income and at worst a demoralizer. I can hear the calls now, “I thought you said we were trying to get to 100% participation. Why don’t they have to give a board gift?” “Why do you expect me to give at that level when so many other board members don’t give at all?”

    Keep it simple and explain why board donations are essential. And then explain the essentials of why they should be giving a meaningful gift.

  2. If you want to engage the board in asking others for money. It is always easier to ask people to join you in your gift to the organization. It shows you have the commitment and hope they will too. In fact, you should not ask someone to do something that you, yourself, are not willing to do.
  3. It is proof that the nonprofit is a priority. Not everyone can give at the same level. And you do want certain people for skills beyond their wealth, but a meaningful gift – one that is a bit of a stretch – shows they understand how important the organization is and want to show their support.
  4. Foundations ask for board participation levels. The reason they ask for that information is for reasons 1-3. They understand that money is often the sign of board commitment and an understanding of the importance of the necessary funding for the nonprofit. As far as I am concerned, there is no reason to have less than 100% participation for a board. A token gift may be appropriate from time to time, (but not because the person thinks they already give enough in wisdom and work).
  5. To create a culture of giving. Nonprofits need funding to survive. They need annual gifts and capital/endowment gifts from time to time. If everyone is used to donating, it will not feel like a task – it will feel like the right thing to do for the community that benefits from the organization. It will be a no-brainer that feels good.

The support of the board – in the form of the three W’s is important. But try not to trade any two for the third – it will never be in the best interest of your organization.

Updated from a previous article

Capital Campaign Success – Should You Measure Dollars or Donors?

Measuring success by using the scales shown here

We are often asked, which is more important – community participation or the total amount raised before we “go public” in our capital campaign? This is not surprising – no organization would want to take on a large-scale project without the support of the community. But, no new building or renovations could come to fruition unless the financial support of the community is in hand.

I think it is a question akin to the chicken or the egg.

Capital Campaign Participation

At Mersky, Jaffe & Associates we have counseled many clients about the 80/20 or now often the 90/10 rule. Yes, 90% of the donations to a capital campaign may come from 10% of donors. However, we also add that the campaign would be a failure if you only raised money from a 10% of your community. The idea of a capital campaign is not to ensure that the wealthy members and major donors choose the future for the organization. It is simply that their meaningful gifts–thanks to their income, assets, family money, or other factors–allow them to make the financially impactful gifts that help put shovels in the ground.

With the encouragement of everyone to participate in the public phase at any level, you can reach 85% of program participant’s parents or 90% of all members. High participation level from the community shows that the capital campaign plan is one that the entire community supports.

It all starts with 100% participation from the capital campaign committee and the board. Sophisticated major donors often ask if there is 100% participation by the board of trustees or the participation rate for members or alumni. Even if these prospective funders are not intimate with the beneficiaries of the building – they know they can equate high leadership participation with excitement about the plans. Without the board participation – you may lose donors whose gifts will make the dream a reality. 

Please note: If you are asking someone for a seven-figure gift, you are probably not their first capital or endowment campaign ask. And that means they are sophisticated enough to know to question participation rates. 

Capital Campaign Dollars

The financial support of major donors signals that they think the capital campaign is the correct path for the community. But a high overall participation rate shows that this is supported by the community. But, without major donors, it would not allow you to move forward. You need funds to hire the architect and builder, secure additional financing and bridge loans, or have confidence that the project could be completed.

In addition, most organizations don’t even announce their campaign or “go public” until a certain percentage of the fundraising goal has been reached – usually 60-70%. For a $13 million dollar campaign, that is somewhere in the $8-9 million dollar range. But even if you could raise that $9 million from 3 donors – what does that say about your organizational priorities? Does anyone else think this is a good idea for the organization?

However, just like the chicken and the egg – timing matters. Early on, dollars reign. It is essential to get to the public phase to give confidence that this campaign will move forward and succeed. But once public – participation from everyone should be just as important.

Originally published in 2014

The Dangers of Delays in Board Decision Making

Delays in Board Decision Making

Have you ever been a part of a nonprofit board that has been paralyzed and not able to make decisions? It can be incredibly frustrating as a volunteer and have serious repercussions for those who rely on these organizations. People, animals, and environments end up not getting the services they need. Organizations are often stuck or, in some cases, even shut down because of indecision. There are too many nonprofit boards that have the same discussion month after month because people think slow equals thoughtful.

There are ways for you to be thoughtful and move an agenda forward.

By helping your nonprofit make decisions, you will create impact, drive progress, and achieve your mission. Delays in board decision making prove that indecision is a decision, too.

Standing still does not help in many situations – on or off a board. Countless times we, as nonprofit consultants, have heard about the “almosts.” The almost campaign that was delayed for 10+ years before we were called in (causing additional costs in delayed maintenance or a larger deficit). The almost parking lot next door that wasn’t purchased and is now a medical facility instead of a building extension. The almost amazing nonprofit that closed because the leadership could never find consensus about how to shift in the face of external pressures.

Not surprisingly, we prefer to help celebrate the opening of a new building, witness the new programming that the additional endowment supports, and see people leave an upbeat board meeting on time feeling satisfied for all they have helped achieve.

The biggest concern with delays in board decision making

As soon as we suggest putting a time limit on board conversations we hear, “No way! It limits discussion,” or, “Everyone won’t be heard.” It’s true that not everyone will have a chance to talk for as long as they would like at the board meeting. But many would say that is not always a bad thing.

When everyone feels they can talk as long as they would like, there is often repetition. And people stop paying as much attention when they think they have heard it before and know that there are still hours more of the same conversation. Our attention spans have only become shorter and board leaders need to address this – while still being respectful and having full conversations. It is a balance – but one worth striving for.

What’s the solution?

In-depth discussions can be held in committee meetings. Recommendations and highlights of the conversation can be presented to start the conversation at the board level. While it sounds scary to some, shorter discussions are not a bad thing once you get used to how it works. Interested board members can go to the committee meeting. Or, if they choose not to, they can accept the time limits. The first couple of times may not go smoothly., Change is hard. Over time you will have more effective discussions that allow you to move forward with decisions.

Note: You should have some flexibility when considering a delay in board decision making. Extending the discussion by 15 or 30 minutes may occasionally be required to achieve consensus on a tough topic. And that should not be seen as a defeat. The important element is to have a positive experience and to end with a decision or vote.

Looking for language to help you move forward? Check out our LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram pages next week for 5 days and 5 suggestions.

Looking for help with your board? Schedule a complementary consultation.

Does Losing a Board Member Mean Losing Their Donation?

Last month I wrote about what to do with an under-performing board member. The follow up question that we often hear is “Does losing a board member mean losing their donation?” That depends on why you are losing a board member. The reasons may include because the board member: 

  • stopped showing up to meetings but still tries to contribute via email. 
  • pops in from time to time and tries to be super helpful (read: has thoughts on all the work that every other person has done) and then isn’t seen for a couple of months. And then repeats the cycle. 
  • takes on responsibilities but then never follows through with anything. 
  • rarely responds to anything you send and often leaves email unopened. 
  • is toxic but has a lot of money.  

The first question I would have is, do you want to save the relationship? How much time and energy are you spending on this person? And, what else could you be doing to replace the departing board member’s donation?  

If they answer is that you still value what they offer, be prepared to put in work and be creative.  

Full disclosure: over time their funding may shift as they become involved in another organization that looks good on LinkedIn. Sorry if that is too cynical but we all know those board members.  

Does losing a board member mean losing their donation? There can be any number of ways to retain the relationship, but they all boil down to one point: Keep them engaged.  


  1. Are they willing to sit down and speak with you or the board president? You could ask how they would like to be involved if they don’t have the time or the focus right now. Try to gauge whether they are looking for a once-a-year activity, once a month activity, or are just happy to be listed as a prominent donor or trustee.   
  1. Would they be willing to serve on a committee instead of the board? For example, it could be a committee that meets infrequently. Remember, the idea is to keep them engaged.  
  1. Survey the entire board, which is always a good idea on an annual basis. . The underperforming board member may not be the only person who is questioning the relationship with your organization. And asking advice is always a good way to deepen a connection. Include questions like: 
    • What do you wish you knew about the board before you joined? 
    • Has your board experience improved, stayed the same, or deteriorated over the past 3 years? 
    • Would you be willing to mentor someone new on the board? Why or why not?  
    • Would you encourage a friend to join the board? Why or why not? 
  1. Offer board training. It may sound counter-intuitive to ask this person to spend more time with you, but it may be that they are bored with what they are doing. An educational opportunity might excite, and reengage, them. 
  1. Hire a consultant to assess your board and your organization. Is the underperforming board member the problem? Could it be the board/board president, a staff member, the direction of the nonprofit, pressure from the community to do more, or some other reason your board has become an uncomfortable place to be. And getting rid of the one person may not solve your problems. 

If it is time to strengthen your board, email me to talk about how MJA can help.  

What Do You Do With An Under-performing Board Member?

under-performing board member from Kolleen Gladden @unsplash

Do you have board members who don’t show up to meetings? Or board members who come to meetings but spend the time on their phone? Maybe they show up but don’t contribute in any substantive way. What do you do with under-performing board members?

Even if they started as amazing volunteers, they may be tired and are no longer helping your organization.

We hear this story a lot. No one wants to “fire” anyone. Even an under-performing board member. It is an uncomfortable conversation. But, if you know it must happen, here are some suggestions to make it a bit easier.

  1. Institute board policies that spell out expectations. Make everything clear, from meeting attendance to term limits, committee participation to fundraising and personal donation expectations.
  2. Be creative with the transition. Is there a different role that might excite them? If you think you can still engage them to help. Do they want to take on a different volunteer role or Advisory Board Member position?
  3. Be direct. “We are creating a governance structure that will include term limits, committee participation, and an attendance policy. I know you are busy this year, do you think you can attend X meetings this year?” “We know you have been a huge supporter of our organization for many years, and we hope that continues for many years to come. But we are looking to have every board member make this one of their top priorities in terms of current volunteering and financial commitments. Is this something you can do?”  “We have noticed that your participation is not what it used to be. While we would appreciate all that you have done, I have to ask, do you still want to be on the board?”
  4. Eliminate “give OR get” from your language. That is a dated mindset that does not work in current nonprofit organizations. Many major donors and grant organizations will ask about board participation. Not every board member can give at the same level, but every single one can give. And ideally it will be one of their top three donations this year. (Read more about this here)
  5. Give it time, but not too much. You want to give board members warning about the changes. But you do not have to give them years. If you are reading this far into this article than you have a problem that needs to be dealt with now. Start having the conversations about the changes. Some of these folks might step down realizing they are not as committed as they once were. If not, then you have a process you can follow if they don’t show up at meetings or donate.

Obviously, you want to try to save the connection, even with an under-performing board member. This person might have been a loyal supporter, donor, and/or advocate. They may have given great counsel over the years. Or brought fresh ideas. And it is always hard to move on from a long-standing relationship.

Here is one last tip: Always have the end in mind when you start these conversations. Know what you can offer to stay in their hearts and minds. And if you run out of ideas, ask them. They may not be able to articulate exactly what they want. But, then again, maybe they will.

Want to know more? Consider reading the follow up article, Does Losing a Board Member mean Losing the Donation?

Governance At Its Best – Strengthening Your Board and Staff

In many nonprofits, there is not a clear divide between board and staff responsibilities. Then you add in long-term volunteers, founders, and advisory boards and things get even muddier. Who should have the final say on a decision? And, should you have that in writing?

Do you know how to go about strengthening your board and staff?

strengthening your board and staff

It’s easy to offer simple recommendations like whether the board should be fundraising (they should be fundraising, starting with themselves), but you also have to have strategies for:

  • Encouraging your board to respect your staff and their opinions
  • Reminding the staff that coaching strategies may change board and volunteer behavior faster than constant reminders
  • Board learning opportunities throughout the year (e.g. understanding a P & L– spend 15 minutes explaining how to read the statement –and how it represents the organizational priorities – for those who don’t work with them every day)
  • Creating change with buy in from staff and the board
  • Knowing a board president’s strengths and weaknesses. And understanding that is not always the same as the last person to hold that role.
  • No one person can be in charge of everything (whether that is staff, a Board President or a Volunteer). Nonprofits are a group effort, intentionally, so spend time determining how to utilize your resources.
  • Running the board like an organization, and not a family business
  • The size of your board – too large or too small will affect whether you are engaging your board members or leaving them to drift off (among other things)
  • Helping board members or staff see their role in creating the solution to the problems you are facing and that they may be causing
  • Overworking your leadership (volunteer and staff) may help you achieve more in the short term. But, in the long term, staff will leave and volunteers will burn out.
  • Moving forward with a decision when consensus was hard to find
  • Innovating change. Nonprofits can no longer rely on the status quo for support, membership or involvement
  • Engaging everyone in fundraising and development when not everyone is willing to ask others for money

This is not an all-encompassing list, and it is not intended to overwhelm you. Instead, it is designed to create a new dialogue around the staff table or at a board meeting about what you want to see change. In other words, help you in strengthening your board and staff. You may want to initiate a strategic plan or a board retreat to help you focus in on your priorities. But don’t let another year go by without growing as individuals and as an organization.

If you think your nonprofit would benefit from our facilitating this process, email me at abigail@merskyjaffe.com today.

If you would like to work on improving your board without counsel, you can purchase one of our books by clicking here

Originally published in 2017

In A World That Feels Out Of Control – What Can You Control?

What can you control?

What you cannot control:

  1. Board and leadership decisions
  2. Your donors’ income or asset changes
  3. Other people’s fears
  4. Unavoidable organizational changes
  5. General economic instability
  6. Deadlines
  7. The Pandemic
  8. Child-care/school situations
  9. Shifts in funding priorities

What can you control?

  1. How you spend each day
  2. If you are making decisions strategically vs. – reactively
  3. How you prioritize your responsibilities
  4. Whether you obtain approvals before you move forward to make sure things are in line
  5. If you ask for help from fellow staff, board members or volunteers
  6. Your fears (this does take a bit of work)
  7. Whether you are currently fundraising and stewarding donors
  8. If you are looking for creative solutions to the myriad problems that arise each day
  9. Your television

Nonprofit organizations who are standing still, afraid of fundraising, and/or think they can put off planning until things settle down will go out of business. It is a harsh reality, but that does not make it any less true. I do not know of any nonprofits who can hold off fundraising for a year and hope to come back with any stable footing.

Major donors will not carry your organization for years just because they believe in your mission statement. They want to sustain organizations which are working to fulfill their mission and achieve their vision. Even now. So, what can you control? Figure it out fast. And get out there and fundraise!

As always, if you want help with any part of the process – from prioritization to creative solutions, set up a time to speak with one of us at Mersky, Jaffe & Associates. 

Things I Like / Don’t Like / Want To Do At My Job

my job as a nonprofit consultant - teaching to fish

The new school year is another time of year I use as a check in point. Summer is over – did I binge watch too much? Yes, but I am catching up on This Is Us, so I have a good excuse. Did I spend too much time with friends? There is no such thing. Did I do all of the busy work I hoped to achieve in slow months? No, but I did have time to assess and look forward. So, here is what I thought about most recently:

Things I like about my job as a nonprofit consultant. I get to:

  1. Help nonprofits achieve their vision and mission
  2. Teach people to (proverbially) fish. You are not hiring me (and Mersky, Jaffe & Associates) to do your fundraising. You are hiring me to teach you, your staff, and board to participate
  3. Let board and staff members see that giving can be an amazing feeling for a donor
  4. Show how asking for money does not have to be a horrible, scary, gut-wrenching process.

Things I do not like about my job as a nonprofit consultant:

  1. Certain people (you know who you are) give me dirty looks when I suggest they fundraise or donate.
  2. Individuals who would be so great at fundraising won’t get past their fear.
  3. Board members who assume others should do all the fundraising
  4. When organizations don’t achieve their goals because of their fears.

Things I want to do this year:

  1. Train more people to raise more money.
  2. Help individuals and organization’s change their mindset on fundraising.
  3. Explain ways that board members can raise money without having to ask their friends (although I am not opposed to helping those who do want to ask their friends.)
  4. Consider new ways to encourage accountability of fundraising in a campaign. Maybe working with new interim deadlines to utilize the science behind urgency as a motivator.

If you would like to help me accomplish my goal, of teaching you to fish, email me today.

If you have other ideas of things I should accomplish this year, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

If you just want to say hi, I would welcome that too.

I hope your fall is filled with many achievements.

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?

Can Nonprofits Turn Previous Failures Into Future Success?Listen to any conference speaker, self-help guru or tech entrepreneur and you are sure to hear about their failures. Of course, they are speaking because they turned their failures into lessons that helped them succeed. Can you imagine going to a funder and telling them that you had to close down your last nonprofit due to lack of money but this time you knew how to handle their 7-figure gift? Can nonprofits turn previous failures into future success? Of course, saying you have changed the way you run your organization is not enough.  You need to “walk the walk as well as talk the talk.”

  • Show that you now have a strong case for giving and are only approaching the right people at the right time.
  • Prove you have learned your lesson by talking about your new and detailed focus on acknowledgements.
  • Demonstrate that you understand stewardship for each and every donor and each and every gift.

What are other areas that nonprofits ignore that can be turned around to prove success?

To some this list may seem overwhelming. To others, it will highlight areas on which to focus or tweak in the coming year. Either way, turning previously missed opportunities into growth and prosperity will sustain your nonprofit. And, it will be something positive to talk about to current and prospective funders. Showing that you are learning and growing is something everyone can get excited about.   Please let us know if we can help you improve your nonprofit by emailing Abigail Harmon.