Senior Managing Consultant, Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates
Have you ever sat in a board meeting and heard a staff or board member present a plan for a fundraising project or campaign. It appears well thought out, it links to and supports the organization’s strategic plan, it fills an important need, it is likely to engender nice gifts and all seems well. The chair calls for discussion of the Plan. There are comments like: “yes, this sounds good,” and “sure, we think that is a great way to go,” or even “absolutely, go after it!” There are just a few questions and they focus on mechanical or tactical considerations. The vote is called for. The motion to approve passes and the board goes on to new business.
Our experience tells us that is when you should be very concerned. That might be called the Unanimous Approval Syndrome.
When this has happened, it is likely that the board members do not feel as though they are the “owners” of the Campaign. They have said it is ok to proceed assuming that others will make the gifts and do the hard work associated with making it succeed.
Has the board asked probing questions? Has the topic of what is required of them come up? I remember a discussion by a University board of trustees about five years ago. There had been a well done presentation, the board had asked some questions and the chair was just about to call the question. One trustee raised their hand, looked around the room to their colleagues and asked: “Does this mean each of us must make a personal gift? And does it mean we will likely be asked to make the largest gift to the University we have ever been asked to make?”
It was a stunning moment. The room was quiet for a brief while. The campaign planning committee chair then spoke and said: “thank you. It does mean both of those. I have already made my commitment and yes, we plan to talk to each one of you if you vote to approve this resolution.”
That led to more discussion and a much more informed decision.
That Campaign has gone on to great success— and in large measure because the board did not merely say: “sure, that’s fine.” They considered what it meant to be owners of the effort — and it made all the difference.
Additional information on this topic can be found in “Chapter 24: The Trustee’s Role in Fundraising,” written by Ted Grossnickle, in the newly released book Achieving Excellence in Fundraising, 3rd Edition available for purchase online at Amazon.com at this link or at other online retailers.