“Only accept this role if you are truly passionate about the mission of the organization. Don’t do it for the wrong reasons. You are the representative of the organization and have the capacity to influence others.”
I met with Dr. Neil Berte, former President of Birmingham-Southern College and former board chair of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, at his office one morning. He loves his community and shared his words of advice for incoming nonprofit board chairs.
Dr. Berte was motivated to serve as board chair because of the horrific conditions of the civil right era intertwined with the history of his community. He was proud to share that most of the $3.8 million raised for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was from Birmingham. “Garnering support is about telling the story to others. Learn to tell the story.” He is passionate when he tells the story of the importance of the civil right institute.
His story stuck with me.
“You must first understand the mission of the organization,” says John Saxon, attorney, former White House Fellow, and board chair of a number of nonprofit organizations. “The board chair is the face and name of the organization. The chair must have vision for the organization and be a cheerleader.” When John gets behind a nonprofit, he is 100 percent committed and their biggest advocate.
Make sure the mission is one in which you truly believe in.
A nonprofit cannot have members serving for the purpose of building their resume.
“You do not have to be the smartest or have the perfect plan,” says Kathryn Harbert, former board chair of the YWCA of Birmingham. She advises however that, “You must know the answer when donors ask you what the funds are used for or will do.” She emphasizes, “Do not say yes if you do not have the time or the passion.”
This is an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution and a difference in this world through a servant leadership position.
I interviewed over a dozen highly successful fundraising nonprofit board chairs. Here are the top three identified attributes of an effective nonprofit board chair:
1. Have passion for the mission of the organization.
Be motivated by the work of the nonprofit. Learn to tell the stories of impact of the organization to others.
2. Have tentacles in the community.
Have contacts at the president and C-suite level is extremely helpful. Have direct access to people with influence and affluence in the community. If you don’t, don’t despair. Utilize board members who have contacts with decision-makers.
3. Be action oriented.
“You must be willing to be aggressive in asking for money,” says Dr. Berte. Fundraising is a people’s business. Ask what relationships you and other board members have that would yield support.
If you are an incoming board chair, seek training or advice from coaching or friends who have been successful. Equip yourself to serve. The board chair’s role is a volunteer position. However, it should be accepted with a firm conviction and unwavering commitment.
Question: What does your board do to ensure passionate board members are serving?
Nancy Rieves, Ed.D. is a fundraising guide. She provides overwhelmed nonprofit leaders with a roadmap to maximize and sustain major gift fundraising. She prepares leaders to be confident and successful in raising money. Reach her at [email protected].
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