When to Confer

on in Fundraising

Someone from the media’s on the phone? The executive director, usually the public face of the organization, speaks with the reporter and shares the ensuing article with board members, supporters, and the like. End of story.

But not always.

When the issue is controversial, behind the executive director must be the board. And it’s the job of the executive director to know when to reach out to the board to think through, as a group, what the organization’s response should be.

The CEO does not stand alone.

Especially in this era of social media-induced reputational risk, what any of us feel personally about an issue must be weighed carefully against the potential blowback to our organization. And this weighing goes to the core of organizational values – a clear area of joint discussion for board-staff leaders.

Some of this can be decided upon in advance, in a policy drafted by the board – and some, frankly, is situational. The important thing is to have open lines of communication so the executive director is not left to make critical judgement calls on their own.

To make this work, two things must be in place: i) the executive director needs to reach out for feedback and guidance; and ii) board members need to be responsive in real time. Both imply a closer involvement than many boards, concerned about overreach or simply relieved to leave the day-to-day (and much else) to staff, often practice.

A recent example: an executive director was asked to comment on a bill pending before Congress. The bill is good, but the congress member sponsoring it has a lousy history on the issue. It’s progress and whitewashing at the same time. What’s the right tone to take?

It’s not a hard issue to resolve, but the point is – the decision, carrying issues of organizational risk, should involve key members of the board.

Yes, this can slow things down a bit (see above about the need for real-time feedback and guidance) – but the positive side is that when/if things blow up, the executive director is not out on a limb all by themselves.

As a side point, these are real issues for board members to sink their teeth into, and tend to make board members more enthused, more committed – and more willing to fundraise, ultimately, for the cause they’re helping to shepherd through tricky shoals.

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