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Case Studies > Case Study 4

Case Study: Non-Profit Exec Learns to Bravely Revamp Board & Fundraising Strategy

A Non-Profit with a Lazy Board of Directors and Outdated Fundraising Tactics

Tina is a 38 year old executive director of a non-profit organization she launched in a large city. When we started working together, the non-profit had been operating for about two years and she built up her board of directors to six people. At this point, the organization was still not able to pay her any salary. She was suddenly widowed prior to starting the organization, had a young daughter, and worked part time to make ends meet.

Like any business owner or non-profit exec, she wanted her organization to grow. She used the only methods she knew how. Tina was an African-American with a lot of ideas plus the energy needed to implement. At the time we started working together, growth had come to a standstill and she wasn’t certain how to proceed.

”Perfect,” I thought. “She’s ready for change!”

It was time to dive in a little deeper to discover the real problems and then come up with solutions that she could implement with the resources available to her.

As I mentioned, Tina’s main goal was organizational growth, including the ability of the organization to pay her a salary. This was really her only goal. My goal as her coach was to discover everything that was getting in her way and keeping her from those goals, what types of strategic activities could actually help her reach her goals, and then (the most difficult part), working with her to change her mindset so that she would (and could) embrace the new ways of “doing business” as her own (even though they felt awkward) and keep practicing those “new ways” until they became normal ways of doing business.

Coaching Experience
“Whew, this is going to be fun,” I thought. And truly, it was. Even though I could tell after our first or second coaching call that I was going to have to help her change in a deeper way than just “reaching goals,” this coaching client was ready for change.

The first problem I noticed was that Tina was working on both the operations of the organization and she was doing all of the fundraising. Her board of directors did no fundraising activities at all. While the board met with her on a regular basis, they only handled some of the more rote business activities. Of all the work the board did for the organization, the only piece I found to be really helpful came from the only attorney who was on the board who provided the legal assistance. The other little bits of work they did could have been performed by a college student for a part time wage.

Even though I tend to focus on the business-at-hand when coaching, I also wanted to know what else took up Tina’s time. It turned out that commuting took up a chunk of time. She lived on the south side of town. Her organization’s office was located on the north side of town. This was because a very generous businessman offered the organization office space for a very small amount of money, and the north side is where it was located. I also found out that Tina spent a lot of time in volunteer activities at her church. (And when I say “a lot of time,” I mean A LOT of time ~~ about 20 to 25 hours each week.)

I soon realized that we had several areas to tackle: Changing how the board of directors worked with the organization; changing the fundraising tactics; changing Tina’s volunteer time; and, the biggest of all, changing the paradigm in Tina’s mind about all of it so that she could embrace the change and welcome it.

Let’s start with the board of directors. As we talked, we discussed a new vision for what the board members would actually do. I wanted Tina to picture a fundraising event (they already held an annual event where the recipients of the organization’s help would talk about their experiences). However, I wanted Tina to picture the board members as the hosts of the event. Tina would also be a host, but the real burden of hosting would rest on the shoulders of the board members. I even wanted her to envision the spouses of the board members acting as hosts of the event. The “board member/hosts” invite people to the event. They follow-up with their invitees prior to the event, ensuring they will show up. At the event, they walk around greeting people, ensuring that Tina is able to do the same (without all the burden of greeting being on Tina). During the dinner, they serve as table hosts. They find ways to encourage people to financially support the organization.

Beyond that, there were other duties we envisioned the board performing. After envisioning what the board would do and “look like” in the future, we listed the new expectations for the board member role. We figured out during which meeting Tina would present this new vision for the board. And then (the fun part!), I asked Tina, “Out of your board members, which are likely to be unhappy with this change?” She replied that about half would be unhappy. So, what is the worst thing that could happen? They quit? I knew this would be difficult for her to swallow. They’re probably nice people, but they have to go. Anyone who doesn’t want to put in the work to be the type of board member the organization needs for them to be needs to move on. (And then we worked on a plan to replace them, finding new board members who would be open to the newly defined role.)

The second change needed was to change the fundraising strategy. Besides getting the board more intimately involved in fundraising, Tina needed to build relationships with individuals and with leaders of other organizations that gave money to non-profits such as hers. I asked about her church, which is large, thinking they would have a missions fund for local projects. However, Tina had a heart-to-heart conversation with me, telling me that the black church often does not reach out to people like herself who are leading organizations that could use their help. “Okay,” I said, “so we’ll go to white churches and mixed-race churches in the area.” I asked her to start a list of churches in a 20 mile radius of her organization’s office in order to start building a relationship with their missions pastor, senior pastor, or whoever was in charge of the missions budget. Many suburban churches support work in the city by partnering with non-profits that are city-based, placing them on their missions budget, attending their fundraisers, etc. So, for starters, we decided that she might have to contact 100 churches in order to find 50 people who would have coffee with her, and that might yield 10 or 20 who would be open to building a regular relationship with her and the organization, and then some percentage of those would add her group to their missions budget.

Now, here’s where I had to help her change her mindset about fundraising. She originally planned to take advantage of the US government’s faith-based giving plan. While I appreciate the government’s acknowledgement (finally!) that the thousands of non-profit organizations in the US do a much better job at taking care of people and problems than the huge government will ever be able to do, I’m just not in favor of them getting into the giving spirit in this manner. My reason for this? Whenever the government gets involved in something like this, they mess it up with all of their red tape. I would much rather see Tina spend her time building real relationships with real local people who give because they care.

The next big item we needed to work on was changing Tina’s time management, especially the time spent in her volunteer activities. I mentioned before that her volunteer work was all at her church. This was the church that didn’t support her work. And by that I mean that no one asked her how the organization was coming along, no leaders came alongside to ask how they could help her do what she was doing, etc. The thing was, though, spending time volunteering had been a way of life for Tina for a long time.

“Oh, but wait a minute!” I said, “There is something in the back of my mind that is nagging at me regarding this whole volunteer thing. What is it?? Oh, yes! Tina, you don’t get paid by your organization yet! That means you’re actually a volunteer! Every hour you spend on this organization is volunteer time!”

Tina needed to significantly reduce the number of hours she spent volunteering at the church so that she could increase her hours (temporarily) building up the new board members and building relationships with local church leaders who might actually contribute. This was a huge mindset shift for her. But it was do-able.

All of these changes required a paradigm shift for Tina. But that was okay. I truly believed she could do it. And once she started to see progress in the board and interest from other church leaders in the area who didn’t know her organization existed, I knew she would be much more encouraged to make all of the changes.

Future Ideas
In the future, I wanted to see if Tina was open to moving her home closer to the organization’s headquarters (which could also mean changing churches). She would continue to improve upon the operations of the organization (which was the easy part for her), and get at least one board member who would ensure that the other directors were doing their jobs.

Tina is doing quite well. Several board members left when they got the news about their newly defined roles. Tina talked to a lot of people in order to find new board members who were open to doing the work that needed to be done. She is getting quite skilled at getting to know people who have responsibility for church mission budgets. And her organization is being more well-known in the area. Changing her mindset about how to handle the board, how to best do fundraising for her type of organization, and dropping her volunteer activities at the church freed her up to focus on the ministry she believes she is called to do.

Post Script
I once heard someone say, “There are a lot of things we can do that are really good things, but that (at this particular time) are not the best for us to do.” Tina needed to figure that out and embrace it in order to bring real, lasting change to her organization and to her life.


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