Leaning Back into the Future

by Barbara Maduell

Nearly every day I receive an e-newsletter or two that includes ideas for two “hot” nonprofit topics: “How to connect with younger donors” or “How to engage board members.” While these topics don’t naturally seem to intersect, a story recently shared at a local major gifts symposium got me thinking about how they might.

Drawing on themes from the BoardSource resource, Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, the keynote speaker explained how she has watched the manner in which board members sit – literally, in their chairs – when they are engaged at different levels. When a board member is reviewing financial reports, he/she huddles over documents, pencil in hand. When the conversation is about developing strategies to grow financial resources, he or she sits up, eyes focused on the speaker. And when the conversation requires generative thinking about how more revenue might allow the organization to create a bolder vision, the board member leans back, hands behind his/her head, looking outward and opening up to possibilities.

What if your organization took time at each meeting to lean back and consider how demographic shifts will impact the ways your organization will raise money and define leadership five or ten years from now?

Here are three “big questions” to get you started:

  • Will individuals who communicate with you via text messaging, Twitter, and Facebook be willing to sit down with peers and have a face-to-face conversation? Will they need to, in order to feel truly connected and invested?
  • Communication channels have changed the way people communicate, with whom, and how frequently. As “global” becomes the new normal and donors view their impact from a continent away, will organizations meeting local needs still be able to capture and keep people’s attention?
  • As corporate and other work environments become more flexible and less hierarchical, will traditional committee structures that serve as ladders to board membership still be a desired way to impact your mission?

If the time has already come when donors can connect to your mission and partner with you in fulfilling it without leaving the comfort of their homes (or mobile devices), how will your organization sustain and grow new types of connections? Lean back and think about it.

Barbara Maduell, CFRE, is a former development professional in Seattle’s Jewish community; she is currently a senior consultant with The Collins Group.