The Path In

on in Board Development

There’s no substitute for first-hand experience.

A board member, executive director and director of development agreed, at last week’s Nonprofit Excellence Awards Panel produced by the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York on Excellence in Fundraising and Resource Development, with this Steve Jobs quote: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Rather than asking cold – for board members, for donations, for resources – the answer, for panelists from New York Common Pantry and Red Hook Initiative, is to involve people in the organization as volunteers.

To show them, by proximity, the important work (and the recipients of the services) – in order to sell them on the mission. 

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At New York Common Pantry, all board members volunteer. This gives them a common point of contact with the non-board volunteer base, allowing them to figure out who might be a good candidate for further cultivation.

Staff, too, mingle with the volunteers, giving development staff a perch from which to identify potential contenders for the Junior Board, for the board’s development committee (which has non-board as well as board participation), and for the full board.

Through this process, NYCP board member Margie Sung explained, “We’ve evolved to creating a culture of involvement where people donate because they know New York Common Pantry” from their own experience.

Red Hook Initiative has begun setting up advisory committees in areas like technology where volunteers have real expertise that can be put to work for RHI. Some of these volunteers have now become board members or contributors. However, “organizations need to be open to hearing ideas from volunteers,” RHI executive director Jill Eisenhard notes, and “know how to support and cultivate these individuals.”

At Red Hook Initiative, board members have direct relationships with the kids served, which helps to spark their passion for the organization. NYCP’s director of development and communications Neill Bogan explained that he “keeps board members informed by sending pictures, reports on fundraising and programs, and keeping them involved” with the program – which then fuels their motivation for fundraising.

So how do you know a volunteer is ready for deeper involvement? NYCP board member Sung watches the signals carefully: “When someone goes from helper to enabler – starts saying ‘we’ when referring to the organization – that’s when you know that the person is more invested.”

Time for that next rung on that ladder of involvement…

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