Boards gone wild!

I am teaching today in Greensboro, NC at the AFP CFRE Review Course and the AFP First Course in Fundraising.  As usual, they have me talking about managing and motivating volunteers and board members.

In my last class, we had such a laugh over “Boards Gone Wild.”  What do I mean?

A Board Gone Wild is a well-meaning group of volunteers who gallop off in the wrong direction.  It’s the wrong direction because the plan or project they are espousing is not well-planned, not well-thought out, has unintended negative consequences, and cannot be pulled off with the current staff and human resources on hand.

Here’s a typical example: Board members are desperate for easy fundraising short cuts.  Board member Bob recalls a golf tournament that made over $75,000.  (He never saw all the back end work that made it happen – he just saw a seamless event on the day of.)

Other board members grab on to the idea. To them this seems like an easy way out.  Let’s do a golf tournament!  No matter that we will need to pull it off within a six week time frame, leaving little time to solicit sponsors.  Not a problem!

If we can’t do it then the staff can help, right? No matter if it’s not in our fundraising plan, we can heap additional stuff on our already overworked staff easily. No matter if they will have to bail out our non-performing volunteer group at the last minute.  No matter if all our major donors have already been solicited recently, we can always go back to them.  And on and on.

Meanwhile the staff has fainted.  They  know what the fundraising plan is for the year and it sure doesn’t call for a golf tournament. They know that golf tournaments, of all things, require an enormous commitment of organizational time and energy to be successful.

The staff is trying to speak up but they are brushed off in the wake of the board galloping down the road to a possible disaster.    Can this board be saved???

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not picking on golf tournaments.  In fact, they are excellent fundraising tools when planned for properly and when supported with appropriate staff and volunteer energy. They are just the example I am using.

There are many examples of Boards Gone Wild.  It could be a pancake supper (groan), a new staff member or fundraising consultant who will be the silver bullet, something called “grantwriting” that will be the magic solution to all the organization’s challenges.

What’s YOUR EXAMPLE of a Board Gone Wild?

Come on and share your own experience!

  • I have been on the board of the Thomas Merton Center (for peace and nonviolence) only to discover with dismay that four members of the antiwar committee have seized power–the presidency, the database, the financials, their newspaper and the project committee–only to cripple and harm their largest project, Book’Em, which for ten years has sent educational books to thousands of prisoners. Following efforts to pressure the group to shut down totally for two months despite 500 prisoner’s writing every month for books, cutting back access to the project by 80%, removing their public notices for volunteers, shutting off their answering machine and failing to pass on messages and removing the project’s cordless phone and its base, discouraging people from donating books, stealing the desk chair–etc.–board members staffing the center (with no exec. director) began taking Book’Em’s mail, opening the donation envelopes and destroying envelopes and letters; they deposited at least some of the checks in the projects account, however, and one board member stated that they intended to go on opening projects mail if it seemed as if it contained donations. When Book’Em’s primary volunteer found evidence of the theft of mail and let them know, she/I was kicked off the board and banned from the building which made it impossible for her to work on her project or to train summer interns. When the secondary volunteer at the project heard this, he became even more upset–devastated, according to a witness–and fell from a 9th story window and is in intensive care. Then another core volunteer quit the project due to the Merton Center hassles and negativity, leaving me with a huge load on my shoulders of having to find a church or some place to relocate Book’Em to with our several thousand books plus desk and tables–while also trying to raise funds for postage. Book’Em is one of the most wonderful charities in the world, but is fighting now for its very survival–because of power-hungry mean-spirited board members and a president who told one of them, “Now we’ve got to get BRUTAL with Book’Em.” With two key volunteers gone and another key volunteer lying at death’s door, I guess they succeeded. Maybe now they can get back to their peace mission, the mission they keep meaning to re-decide.