The Butterfly Effect
Wondering about COVID’s impact on nonprofit boards? Then take a look at our new report, How COVID affected nonprofit board practices. It is based on a survey of 119 nonprofit board and staff leaders at dozens of organizations in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
We collaborated with our colleague Mike Burns at BWB Solutions to survey each of our clients and followers on how nonprofit boards have responded to disruptions cause by COVID since the shut down in March.
Changes in meeting format
The most striking COVID impact on board practices reported was the rapid transition to online meetings. Board meetings via video conferencing were rare before COVID, but are nearly universal now. About a fifth of respondents expect to continue all virtual meetings after COVID restrictions end. Up to half expect to use some hybrid of video conferencing and in-person meetings in the future.
Changes in practice
While the majority reported little or no change in the board’s overall effectiveness, a sizeable minority said that board work had improved since the onset of the crisis. A number of respondents reported that their boards had put fundraising and planning projects on hold during the shutdown.
We thought we would see some panic about COVID’s impact on boards and the nonprofits they serve. While almost equal numbers reported the likelihood of reducing or expanding programs or operations, board members tended slightly more to reductions while CEOs leaned slightly toward expansion. Very few expected to go out of business or merge with another nonprofit.
Mike Burns of BWB Solutions co-authored the report with Gayle L. Gifford and Jon Howard of Cause & Effect, Inc. We recommend that boards and executives reflect on what they can learn and adapt from changes in board practice since COVIC. We further call on boards to challenge all core assumptions to better prepare for future disruption.
How is your board doing? And other boards in New England. Would you like to know? Then please take this board coronavirus survey. Click here for survey.
Board service is challenging in the best of times – and these are not the best of times.
Cause & Effect Inc. and BWB Solutions have partnered to survey non-profit board leaders and chief executives in New England. With your response, we can better understand and record how the pandemic has affected the process and practices of your board. By sharing your insights and experiences, we’ll all do better in the challenging times ahead.
“I couldn’t believe what i was seeing… this storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky…
“…Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands… Then she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising…
“And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.
“More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me more than once over those many years that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart…
“But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again.
“And we did.
“And we still do, all of us. You and I.”
I’ve been searching for words to share to express the outrage and anguish I’ve felt over the events of these last few weeks.
This outrage in our country has been intensifying over the last four years, though it started long before. 400 years and more ago.
A good share of my grief is watching that upward movement on the arc of justice I thought was happening take a deep downward plunge. I’ve been overcome by guilt for leaving this mess of a country to my children and family.
And then today, a beacon arrived for the darkness. In a BFR workshop called “Keys to navigating change post pandemic”, presenter Sue Harvey read the above story from the prologue of civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis’s memoir. The passage above is a shortened version of the story.
Jon reminded me that we had the Congressman autograph a copy to our sons who were just about to turn 13 at the time we saw him speak.
Congressman Lewis’s metaphor of holding down the house through many storms expressed what I was searching for. We have a lot of work to do to end racism and create an equitable society. Let’s all keep walking with the wind.
In peace and justice,
I don’t know about you, but my twitter feed has a heck of a lot of shoulds directed at nonprofits. It seems lots of folks have lots of certain advice to give nonprofits in this time of a global pandemic and economic shut down.
Me, I’ve never lived through a pandemic before. Well, not as an adult. Or at least lived through one that shut down huge portions of the US and world economies and ways of life.
I was born on the downside of the polio epidemic and remember getting both vaccines in elementary school. Read more
Since the full force of the Covid 19 shutdown took place a few weeks ago, Jon, Alex and I have had to rapidly adjust how we work. Yes, this older dog is sharing and learning new tricks in this video age just as fast as she can.
Ironically, I’ve been working from a home office for 26 years since the founding of Cause & Effect Inc. For at least the last five, I’ve been enjoying videoconferencing with colleagues across the US and Canada through the wonders of Zoom. I have been singing its praises. We even opened Christmas presents with the sons, spouse, fiance and my LA based daughter and my son-in-law over a few hours. It was a lot of fun.
I’ve been promoting videoconferencing as an essential skill of the 21st century board.
I never imagined that videoconferencing would be the only realistic way to connect with the nonprofit teams I work with.
And I’m sure that those directors, staff and volunteers never imagined it either. If you’ve already have a geographically disperse universe, you are likely an old hand. But most of our clients are within driving distance and they have had an abrupt learning curve. Read more
Our hope for the future is the world Dr. King imagined: a world based on justice, free from war, free from all the hateful -isms and from hate itself. The beloved community.
We have to bend the arc of justice ourselves; there is no one else to do it for us.
Guess what development director. Board member fundraising is hard work.
Your board members aren’t going to start fundraising just because they are now on the board. And you can’t scold them into participating.
You’ve got to treat them as the individuals they are. If you invest time in these directors, some will become strong partners with you. Others may participate around the edges. With the proper attention, all will give.
Change happens in stages
Most of us don’t leap from never doing something to suddenly being good at it. We usually need to contemplate our new role, convincing ourselves that the benefits of doing the new thing are greater than the cons of doing it. Then we need to prepare, to develop the skills we need. With those skills, then we are ready to act, taking a small step forward into doing. After that it’s practice, practice, practice. And with the right supports to enable the new thing to eventually become second nature. .
What do board members need from you?
Above all, they need to really get the need for raising money. No, not the financial statement line item. The compelling case for support they can understand in their hearts, as well as their head. How the money links to the outcomes. You can never explain this enough.
So show them. Create the transformative experience that knocks their socks off. A day volunteering in your food pantry? That bird banding session with your super caring staff? A special trip to capitol hill?
Help them find the large donor in themselves. Have a relationship building strategy for each board member, just like you would have a strategy for any of your prospects.
What else do they need?
On the practical side:
- The right assignment that corresponds to their planned movement up the change ladder
- Leadership from you, the professional
- A menu of options from a well-developed plan
- Personal training, coaching, encouragement
- Logistical support
- Your gratitude for their work
- Celebrating their baby steps and the big ones
And for yourself… when thinking about board member fundraising, start with the willing few. Then work your way deeper into the pack.
I was cleaning my workshop files and found this compact, or volunteer fundraiser commitment, I created a few years ago. Feel free to share.
Here’s my volunteer fundraiser commitment.
- discover joy in raising money for my favorite cause
- ask, otherwise I’ll never know
- rely on my team for advice and support
- only volunteer for assignments I know I can complete
- ask for help when I need it, as soon as I need it.
- take risks and not fear failing
- remember the words of hockey star Wayne Gretzky: You miss 100% of the shots you never take
- send in my notes from all of my meetings and contacts.
- I don’t have to be perfect, I just have to start!
More reading for you
I was asked today by a client: Can we run fundraising for investments like staff that were identified in our strategic plan? Say a “non-capital campaign?”
Yes you can. Universities and hospitals do it all the time. Their big comprehensive campaigns usually include lots of stuff like buildings and equipment. But they also don’t overlook other capacity and operating needs, like new staff or programs.
To maximize success for a campaign like this, reframe the way you talk or think about donor motivation.
To get some help here, we’ve turned to the really smart folks at the Nonprofit Finance Fund. They frame the difference in terms that create a shared vocabulary for speakers of For-profit and Nonprofit English.
For the Nonprofit Finance Fund, build money (for “philanthropic equity”) is qualitatively different from buy money (for program execution). Builders invest in your enterprise capacity, not your services.They are more likely to be interested in enabling your growth with large gifts. They may only be providing you smaller annual donations because you haven’t piqued their true interests.
Buyers pay you to provide services to others. Buyers may be willing to contribute enough, if communicated well, to cover your other operating costs (too often considered “overhead” But that’s another article). But buyers don’t provide sufficient income above current costs to finance major new initiatives.
The takeaway: recognize, as the biggest nonprofits do, that you need institution-builders as well as buyers for your services and products. Read more