By Brickson Diamond
AABLI Faculty Member
Chief Operating Officer, The Executive Leadership Council
Congratulations! The move from board member to board chair is an exciting new way you can contribute to an organization that inspires your passion. You should start preparing now to step up on many fronts, especially in the area of fundraising. The work of leading, asking and giving more should not cause dread, but should not be taken lightly.
As board chair, you will be called on to lead fellow board members, staff and constituents in pursuit of the organization’s fundraising goals. And as we’ve learned from best practices in governance, leading is quite different from managing.
The preparation for advancing from board member to chair should include meetings with each constituent group. Here is a guide on what to discuss with each:
- Board: As a board, set goals for any stretch amounts you want to raise. This is above and beyond the amount the staff has requested in the normal budgeting process. A “stretch goal” establishes an aspirational target for an elevated level of fundraising activity over the course of your tenure as chair. Keep in mind that behind that stretch goal should be an articulation of the legacy you want to leave as chair.
- Staff: As you meet with fellow board members, set aside time to meet with your organization’s CEO/executive director as well. Get a sense of his or her fundraising ‘pain points.’ Spend time with the CEO’s staff, appraising its strengths and weaknesses across the board, with special attention to the fundraising function.
- Constituents: Invariably, a prior transition will have left someone behind. Dig through the rosters of previous donors to find the reliable givers, past and present. Devote time and attention to cultivating both as you plan for your move up. And here is your ace card: Find those major donors–outside of the board–who want to be financial champions of your term as chair.
It will be important to respect the outgoing chair’s tenure and priorities. You are laying the groundwork for a set of future asks.
Importantly, you will have worked with staff members to assess them, but also to make sure they are well positioned to carry out the day-to-day work of supporting the organization’s basic needs. Beyond that oversight function, see that you are reserved for use as “the closer.”
You may have solicited any number of prospects as a board member, but as board chair, you generally will close major fundraising asks in person. Work with your CEO and development leader to identify a calendar for cultivating and visiting with the major donor prospects over the course of your first six months in the chair seat.
A significant portion of your time will be spent on oversight. How is the overall fundraising effort progressing? Are board members meeting their give or get targets? What tactics are required to match the strategic goals?
Your bottom line job as chair is to be the ultimate steward of gifts solicited by the entire organization. According to an old adage, it takes three times for the sentiment of gratitude to be received. Yours will be the most powerful of those expressions.
How will you thank donors and volunteers? Determine how you will communicate. Letters, phone calls, emails or some more contemporary form of communication all can be effective. It’s when a “thank you” is not sent at all that an opportunity is missed.
Perhaps your prior giving to the organization helped the leadership identify you as a good candidate for chair. Once you are in the driver’s seat, however, be prepared to kick your giving up a notch. This may require pulling back on gifts you make to other charities while you meet your new responsibility as chair. Raising more money is a key duty, but when you head an organization, writing bigger checks can be an unavoidable duty as well.
* * *
If you plan well, elevated giving and asking will change your organization and move it to meet its mission in grander and more compelling ways.
This blog is not written by aabli.org or The African American Board Leadership Institute. The author is solely responsible for the content.