This is the second post in a three-part series on how to raise growth capital to scale your nonprofit.
Too often nonprofit leaders, with a good idea and a plan in hand, stumble when it comes to raising the growth capital. There are many reasons this happens. In my last post, I explored the Lone Ranger Syndrome, the daring CEO trying to scale her organization and raise the money on her own. In this post, we will tackle the board.
Nonprofit boards get a bad rap. They are never around when you really need them. They get distracted by details, when they should be strategic. And of course, they never, ever want to do any fundraising. Admit it, we have all said it. But what are you doing to make it easy for your board to be a partner in crime instead of run from the scene?
Part 2: The Missing Board Syndrome
If you are thinking about scaling, your board is essential to your success. Engaged the right way, your board is a powerful ally, and should and will provide the resources needed to make your vision happen. Here’s how:
1. Invite board members into the plan development process. Scaling your nonprofit takes a village, and your board is a critical partner in the execution of your plan, as well as its development. There is a reservoir of talent and skill on your board to be tapped in developing the scaling plan. Engaging individual board members on a small committee to partner with you offers several benefits: they bring important skills and knowledge that you may not have on your team; they challenge you and push you to think broadly about your organizational goals; they help you anticipate the tough questions the full board and funding community may ask; as co-authors and advisors they become champions for the scaling effort; and as they become more engaged throughout the process, they are often first-in with funding to support your scaling plan.
2. Talk about the goals of the scaling plan with your full board early and often. Even when board members are tapped for advice, too often a CEO and a few staff members will find a quiet room, close the door and bang out a scaling plan. Then voila, the plan is presented at a board meeting. Is it any wonder that the board says, “Good luck with that scaling idea!” Don’t wait until your plan is done. Talk about your vision and growth aspirations every chance you get. Engage the board, collectively and individually, in discussion around key elements of the growth strategy, and ask for their advice on big issues. For example, ask questions like: Should we target 15 states or 5?; Can we realistically double our service impact?; How much technology do we really need? Funders will be looking, as always, to see what the board is doing to support your plan. Your board needs to believe it, own it and fund it. By incorporating the scaling vision into the DNA of every conversation, scaling will not be a surprise but rather a natural progression of your organization’s strategy. In fact, your board will think that it was their idea!
3. Train the board on how to raise growth capital. For many board members — perhaps most — raising money is a necessary evil. Board members “get” how to ask their friends to buy tables to the gala, participate in the golf outing, or write a check for the annual appeal. Many have participated in a capital campaign and can “sell” the idea of a new building or more scholarships. But a growth raise for scaling is not a traditional bricks and mortar campaign with a shiny new building at the end. This is not fundraising business as usual. “We’re raising money to invest in technology? I can’t pitch that to my friend!” The growth raise effort demands that board members think and act differently about how they help you raise the money to scale your organization. So, help the board help you. Develop a simple case statement or pitch document that tells the scaling story simply; this is a great tool for board members to use with their colleagues and friends. Provide your board members with a few simple talking points about your scaling plan that includes the vision, 2-3 key priorities, how much money you are trying to raise and in what timeframe. Invite your board members to participate in asks for growth capital. As they see you in action, they will be better prepared when the next opportunity arises.
Remember, scaling is all about increasing your impact. By engaging your board throughout the process, you not only develop a stronger plan, but you also help the board increase their impact on the organization.
Coming in Part 3: The Facts and Figures Overload Syndrome
Theresa Schieber is a strategist and senior vice president of The Whelan Group, a consultancy to nonprofits. She is recognized for her expertise in the areas of nonprofit growth strategy, governance, business planning, visioning, new market development and scaling social innovation.