In these uncertain times, your governing board must be the guiding light for your entire organization and its mission. By now your committed leaders, with their diverse set of skills, have assessed the current financial position, taken stock of the morale of your staff, and helped reach out to critical supporters.
Now is the time to spend energy and resources on the long-term vision. It’s imperative to complete this process with accountability, transparency, and excellence. The goal here is to meet certain benchmarks and evaluate four important factors: Finance, Programs, Personnel, and Board Recruitment. In this post, we detail questions your board should be asking as well as the action steps needed to follow through on strategies.
The financial health of your organization is paramount right now and in the immediate future. If you are in the middle of a capital campaign, you are steps ahead of other charitable organizations who are not being active during this time. You have confidence that the current campaign will have transformational impact to the mission you serve, and you are showing that confidence by staying the course. This is the right approach as it has been proven during times of crisis that the organizations that continue pressing forward find success while those who pause fall way behind.
There will be surprises of course as the financial situations of individuals and corporations are in flux. For this reason, development leadership and your board should remain flexible when it comes to planning. You built this campaign for specific needs – pandemic or not. Your plan is to fulfill each of the parts that build your case for support. However, flexibility means asking (and having your board members ask) difficult questions. This will prepare you to navigate potentially different outcomes in the months and years ahead. Regardless of the status of your campaign or other major fundraising efforts, you will have new challenges and those will cost both money and resources. Taking stock of your current plans now will help you greatly down the road.
Questions for your board members to ask: Has our redemption rate remained steady? What have we learned from our closest supporters?
Action steps for the board: Board members should be calling people who have committed pledges or are usual annual donors during this time. They should be checking in with them, asking them how they are doing during this challenging time, and as always, thanking them for their support. It is also important for board members to update donors on what is going on in the organization. Afterall, board members and donors are peers, and as the most important ambassadors of the mission, board members should speak to donors openly about any concerns or new opportunities. The financial health of the organization needs to be checked on regularly as it is the foundation of any strategic planning process. Let your board members drive this process.
The world has changed. Not just in the past month, but the new normal will mean new information and experiences. It’s important that your organization take an immediate look at the effectiveness of your different programs as well as the potential long-term view of their impact.
Questions for your board members to ask: Do our current programs meet all of the needs of those we serve? If not, why not? Is it a lack of resources? Are we seeing an increase of services, and do we anticipate that this level cannot sustain itself by say, the end of the year?
Action steps for the board: During this time, board members should be talking to staff members on the front lines and should focus on areas of need and opportunity. They should also talk to other organizations in your space to find out where they are, and how their activity relates to your organization. For example, where can your organization potentially pool resources with others? Are there possible merger opportunities to explore? What could be learned from a deep dive audit of your programs?
This is a time to take stock of your human resources and how well they serve your most important assets. There will be a new set of expectations and standards in keeping everyone safe, motivated, and focused once we return to our offices.
Questions for board members to ask: What needs to be done when the “all clear” is given? What protections are we covering for workers? Do we need to look at health insurance changes? What does the pay structure look like?
Action steps for the board: Board members should be allocating more resources to ensure that staff know they are supported and valued. They should explain that any changes in programs are helpful for long-term positive impacts. Your organization may be looking at a leaner structure going forward, so it is imperative that your board members remain positive about what the development team—regardless of size—can still accomplish together.
Every board has members who aren’t actively engaged. During this time, leaders rise. Take notice of people within your organization who are leading and tap into that energy. Do not allow your board to become a weak link to achieving your mission.
Questions for your board members to ask: Knowing your gaps, where can we recruit to have those gaps filled? How can we balance the need of funding vs the need of having expertise in certain areas?
Action steps for the board: Have your board secure the three areas mentioned before first – as best they can at this time. Then make sure each board member has a prepared plan to speak to and bring on board the people who will make you a stronger, more impactful organization. The board needs to be diligent and intentional over the course of the next three to six months to ensure the viability of your organization for years to come.
Helping to define roles for each board member is paramount. Depending on their meeting schedules, ask each board lead for a status update once a week until your next board meeting so you all remain on the same page. The full board meeting should then focus on clarifications and next steps, so you don’t spend too long on brainstorming. Defining clear roles and making sure everyone understands your main objectives should also happen well before the meeting, so it remains as productive as possible.
Finally, it’s important to remember that being strategic is all about being thoughtful. Be empathetic to each board member’s needs as well as understanding of the current and future challenges presented by this crisis. From there, the most important thing to focus on is aligning the individual priorities of each board member with the overall mission of your organization.
CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.
About the Author
Christopher Dake has over 19 years of nonprofit management experience, having worked at leading organizations including Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where he served as Director of the SHARE Food Network and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. Chris provides strategic counsel on board management, major gifts, and marketing. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Xavier University and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).