When Everybody Does Everything

on in Fundraising

Ever been to a potluck where everyone brought dessert? Or a gathering that ended up with 12 different kinds of chips?

A potluck works best with a signup sheet – and curation. People feel responsible for doing their best on their own unique dish; and they’re assured there won’t be three sets of brownies, or five kinds of pasta.

There are lessons here for the organization of a board of directors into committees. 

The primary lesson is that groups work best when the individuals in them are accountable for their own areas of responsibility.

When everybody does everything, no-one takes home any one task. Everyone’s responsible for fundraising? No one will notice if I slack off. But when each individual board member reasons this way in the privacy of their pulled-in-many-directions life, you get a board where just about everyone is falling down on the job.

It’s really important to assign areas of board responsibility – committees, if the board is large enough, point people if it’s tiny – so that someone OWNS fundraising, finance, nominating, et al. Someone takes it home, thinks about it in the shower, knows that “it’s on them” to make sure the board does its job in that arena.

Also, people do better when they know the group is watching them. It’s the same as in a pot luck: when you’re assigned to bring guacamole, and you know that that everyone will be eating your guacamole, you make your darned-best guacamole, not to be shown up by the crowd.

Another important principle is curation. Board assignments should be correlated to strengths and avidness of interest. We all know not to put someone allergic to numbers in charge of finance, but how about assigning a solitary type to head the fundraising working group? Might not be the best fit.

And when it’s not a good fit, board members go into avoidance mode – they don’t refuse the assignment, they just don’t perform. They vote with their feet, as it were.

(Like when the person assigned to bring lasagna begs off at the last minute because they’re not feeling well – well enough to make a dish of that complexity, that is…)

Finally, in a good potluck everyone’s aware of what everyone else is bringing, to avoid duplication and maximize complementariness. Likewise in a well-running board, members know how their work fits into the whole, who their most likely partners are, and how their assignments fit into the charge of the board over the entire year.

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