IF you want to change your board, THEN . . .

The always insightful Seth Godin’s reminder via his blog that “all change involves an if/then promise” speaks to almost any aspect of organizational life. However, if you’re a regular reader of Generous Matters, then you expect me to apply Godin’s wise principle to board governance and/or fundraising.


Not wanting to disappoint, that’s what I’ve done with the following if/then promises for your consideration as you seek to build a better governing board.

IF you want to shorten the learning curve for new members, THEN make board orientation a priority.

The first year of a board member’s service is a terrible thing to waste, yet that’s what board members report when orientation is ignored. Multiply the one year times several new members, and we’re talking a huge loss. Whether you’re bringing a few or many on to the board, no board member should take his or her seat without a thorough orientation.

IF you want an engaged board, THEN give the members meaningful work to do.

Vague whining about needing more from your board won’t get you much. But present board members with specifics and watch them step up. I’ve yet to meet a board member intent on being useless. Unfortunately, in too many board settings, that’s the outcome.

IF you want strong board leadership, THEN recruit individuals with potential to lead.

And not just as the next chair. Within even the smallest board, there are multiple leadership opportunities waiting for takers. When board members are recruited with leadership potential in mind, succession planning for the board is a snap and arm-twisting a thing of the past.

IF you want a generous board, THEN look for folks with track records of generosity,

including with their time, talent, and treasure. Ideally all three. Every board member should “walk the talk” of generosity as a calling, whatever that means for the individual board member. A stingy board culture trickles down and spreads across the whole of an organization and its support base. But fill board seats with generous folk and everyone else will follow their lead.

IF you want to involve board members in fundraising, THEN give them what they need to succeed as fundraisers.

It’s my experience that board members avoid anything to do with fundraising because they don’t have enough information or training to get involved with comfort. It is also my experience that any board, with sufficient encouragement and education, can meet (even exceed) expectations when it comes to resource generation.

If, after giving these five promises a try, board members don’t respond as you hope, then there are two possible reasons (paraphrasing Godin’s ideas):

Not enough if. Maybe you’re not fully convinced that recruiting the kind of board members you say you want – informed, wise, generous, and involved — actually matters. Maybe you haven’t fully accepted the strong board/strong organization corollary.

Not enough then. More likely, you want the if – the kind of board members described above – but you’re not willing, able, or ready to do what it takes to win, woo, and work with a top-notch board. It’s easy to give lip service to the then, but putting in the work to bring it about . . . well, that’s how change happens, or doesn’t.


If you’d like to read more about board development, then go to:

Why telling boards that governance matters, matters.

Four lessons for nonprofit boards from the Alban Institute’s obituary

Re-visioning nonprofit boards as innovators and change agents

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