If You Build It, Will They Come?

Part I of III

by Avrum Lapin

Leadership is the single most meaningful force for success. Whether it is in politics on a global, national, or local level; in the corporate or private sector; or in the nonprofit world, accomplishment is propelled by the impetus and inspiration of one, or a small group of individuals, who develop creative mission and market-driven ideas, build plans of action around them, and effectively animate those plans through effective execution. Driven by vision and passion and a commitment to excellence and success, leaders create new reality, innovation and change.

Let’s focus on the philanthropic, especially the Jewish philanthropic, sector for this moment. We posit that successful organizations are driven by a central vision of an individual with a determined point of view and with the magnetism and vibrant energy to influence others toward a set of goals and results. That dynamic, crafting approaches and solutions and building consensus around them, frames a group’s agenda and positions it for success.

As I have written before, size and history are no longer sole determining issues or factors. The capability to marshal resources and to obtain results leading to transformative impact is the key metric today. The fact that a nonprofit has been in business for a century no longer matters as much; in fact it might even be a negative.

So the first imperative in marshalling resources is building a Board, a core circle of leaders who share the leader’s dedication to the work of the organization, and who have the drive, capacity, and connections to advance the organization’s purpose and mission and to take on a fiduciary responsibility for the organization’s well-being.

In addition to the fiduciary role, today’s effective Board is committed to mission specific expansion and diversification; being part of offering training and orientation so that skills are developed and expectations are met; personal giving to a level of capacity; and owning the imperative for encouraging and growing the organization’s “culture of philanthropy.”

The ideal Board member is passionate, connected, active, committed and confident. They are hands-on but not intrusive, engaged but not in the way. Members respect the role and the expertise of the organizational professional, especially in today’s increasingly complex and competitive philanthropic marketplace, and see where they fit on the critical path to success.

Starting with the “fundamentals,” effective leaders will assemble, sustain and grow strong Boards by setting clear expectations; linking fundraising to the mission; creating opportunities for mentorship; and setting philanthropy as a core value and deliverable at the point of recruitment.

And remember, successful Boards are inspired by leadership from the top. So a Board Chair must lead by example – doing the things that he or she is asking of their colleagues; affirming a commitment to Giving and Getting (not Giving or Getting – a topic for Part III – which often takes members “off the hook” and building in a lack of accountability); and encouraging and inspiring members to think and to do at the same time.

Ambitious and visionary expectations create strong results. Strong results ensure effective and productive (not necessarily large) organizations that get things done. If Board Chairs and CEOs want Board members to perform, they must make sure that members understand and accept the rules and expectations; that there are written “job descriptions” for Board members and the committees that comprise the Board; that there are meaningful and productive “rules of engagement” with executive and other professional staff; and that there is a mechanism to recognize Board members who achieve and meet targets.

And when it comes to involvement in fundraising, knowing that some will be more involved than others and every Board member comes to the Board with unique skills and personality, the Board Chair and CEO must continuously engage the Board member in the fundraising activity. That includes making introductions and being involved in “asks.”

Clarity in expectations and in assignments is also critical to success. We must live in the world of definition v. assumption, addressing the issues of who is doing what; who is the “leader,” especially when Board members and professionals share tasks; and where is the point at which the Board member comes in. This is especially important today, where the emerging entrepreneurial leader is asserting him or herself alongside the expectation of organizations professionalizing to meet the challenges of the market.

As parting thoughts in this first of three posts on Board Development and Organizational Success, we assert the following:

  • As leadership, driven by vision and passion for the cause, is fundamental to organizational success, nonprofits must maintain a commitment to attracting the highest caliber leadership to continue to drive success.
  • Set clear and transparent expectations and minimize the compromises, especially when it comes to fundraising, precisely because it often lives outside of Board member’s comfort zone.
  • Recruit the right people for the right tasks – it is all about performance and results.
  • Appreciate and acknowledge unique talents and successes, making Board meetings about celebrating accomplishment as well as reporting and decision making.

Stay tuned for the next two installments in the weeks to come.

Avrum Lapin is the President at The Lapin Group, LLC, a prominent fundraising consulting firm located in suburban Philadelphia. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits with contemporary approaches and solutions to fund, organizational, and leadership development, as well as nonprofit business planning and growth strategies. Avrum is a frequent contributor to eJewishPhilanthropy.com and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

The Lapin Group on Facebook: www.facebook.com/thelapingroup

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