Part 2: Nonprofit Board Governance and Sausage Making


Pete’s Favorite Kielbasa.

Here’s part two of my post about making changes at your nonprofit and making them stick.

You’ll have to come up with a plan to initiate and sustain the inclusion of fundraising responsibilities into your nonprofit board’s job description. Here are a few steps you can take to incorporate fundraising responsibilities into a board member job description.

  1. Board leaders have to not only agree to the changes, but come to believe it was their idea. Form a small ad hoc committee to review ideas and draft proposals, with your leadership. It’s o.k. for the proposed changes to come from the Executive Director or Development Director. Just make sure your volunteers “buy in” to what you’re suggesting.
  2. Get support from “someone of influence” on the board. Find someone outside your committee who will be willing to use their influence to support the proposed changes.
  3. Think through relationship map of the board. Where are the power centers? Who might support your proposal(s)? Who won’t care? Who’s on the fence?
  4. Get independent, outside perspective from a friend, colleague or consultant. Enlist them to help you create a plan to initiate the change and maybe even speak to your board.
  5. Create a timeline and go slow. Unless…
  6. There’s a precipitating/emergency event. Much like a disaster gives the Red Cross the ability and opportunity to ask for gifts 10 or more times as large as what it might normally ask for due to the immediacy of the human need, if your board encounters a significant event or crisis, it can be used to initiate and get support for more rapid and pervasive change.
  7. Finally, find and engage new board members. A critical strategy in initiating this change is to find new volunteers and leaders that you can bring on to the board with the new expectations. On several occasions, a board I’ve been on has adopted new Roles and Responsibilities, but never intended for it to apply to themselves.

The sausage part: In the end, nonprofit board development and governance is a bit like making sausage. I had a board member who resigned her position after being on the board for less than a year. She’d been a longtime donor to the organization, had made a large gift to our capital campaign, and I was REALLY excited to have her on the board. What a great example to all the other board members about putting your money where your passion is. In her letter of resignation, she referenced the meetings she’d attended (board and committee) and likened it to sausage-making. She said that while she really liked sausage, she didn’t need or want to know how it was made.

Building and maintaining an effective board takes a lot of work. It takes thoughtful leadership, committed and energized volunteers, and lots of patience. If you can make it work, wonderful things can happen.


The best resource I’ve found for strategies to create sustainable change is buy in, by John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead, from Harvard Business Review Press. It’s available on Amazon here. A video of John Kotter is here. It’s a quick read and gives very precise and concrete steps for “saving your good idea from getting shot down.” I recommend new and seasoned executive directors read it often to stay ahead of the inevitable roadblocks to change.

Are there other ways you’ve been able to make changes stick over time? Do you like sausage?