Change your thinking, Change your Board

by Marcy Heim on March 23, 2022

If you’re thinking your board and volunteers still prefer to zoom, change your thinking!

Christian Living Communities

When I look at my most successful clients RIGHT NOW – the ones who are having the greatest success with NEW major gifts – all are effectively and personally bringing people together.

Meet Jill Vitale-Aussem. She’s CEO of Christian Living Communities in Denver and author of, “Disrupting the status quo of senior living,” a must-read for anyone who will ever get older. 

We are in the advanced gifts phase of a major initiative to build new physical spaces and transform the care model. A key piece of our plan is to re-ignite the Advancement Council – a group of past board members launched in mid-March 2020 – yep, right alongside the covid shutdown. Their two meetings were virtual and mostly reports managing through the pandemic. Yikes!

LEARN from this! This meeting, just yesterday, was wildly successful! Here’s why!


1.    BEFORE the meeting

When the decision was made to bring the group together again, typically the Admin would send a group email announcing the date with a draft agenda.  Instead – Olivia Mayer, Director of Development, sent a personalized email to each member sharing the opportunity to re-start this and that she’d be calling. These calls allowed her to share details, sure, but more important have a warm interaction and get a feel for where they were at with the organization and in life.

2.    Zooming, too, is still ok, but make in person more attractive.

During these calls, people had a choice of attending in person – or zoom.  Not attending wasn’t really on the agenda. Few missed. A simple boxed lunch and conversation proved more attractive for most. Staff connected ahead of time with those on zoom to be sure they were confident with the technology piece.

3.    Redesigning the guidelines for the group – you need to be clear

Also prior to the meeting, we met with the creator of the original guidelines. These were modified by the former CEO who had left and did not embrace development. Working together these guidelines were rewritten to include every member’s consideration of their own gift!  It’s important to be transparent that fundraising and giving is part of the group’s purpose. AND, the board member who drafted the first draft agreed to lead the conversation for the rewrite!

4.    Don’t get right down to business  

I may be old school, but I believe the small talk, rapport building time is critical. So instead of getting down to business, get down to relationship building. It builds trust, good will and a “feeling.” There was a gathering space by the entrance where the CEO and a few other staff greeted guests.  This was celebratory – filled with hugs!  People MISS each other! Don’t send people directly to their seats!

5.    Whew – we’re finally at the meeting!  Connect to MISSION!

No powerpoint. Five simple pages – agenda, mission and vision, current status,  strategic goals and fundraising initiative.

At the start of EVERY meeting, the group reads OUTLOUD together the vision and mission.

6.    Share your story!

What???? Everyone is going to get the mic?  YES, everyone was asked to take a turn sharing their connection to CLC. Remarks were heartwarming, humorous and meaningful. Sure it took about 25 minutes. SO WHAT? Several commented about finally this council was going to DO SOMETHING! Almost 100% said – WE LIVE OUR MISSION.

7.    Leadership leads with Vision and Vulnerability

Really a few sentences can pretty much sum it up. More important is intermingling the power of the partnership they need with the folks in the room.

8.    The work of the Board is led by a volunteer

A volunteer shared the creation of the group, reviewed the guidelines, shared his own plans for participating and noted that all should consider their gift. (ok so he was the perfect volunteer!  AND he was on the screen!)

9.    The funding initiative is presented with donor-focused practices and only the largest giving options are listed on the page – a simple one-pager.

Christian Living Communities

Marketing people think paper raises money and are concerned with brand. Managers think timelines raise money and are concerned with reports. I shared examples of different mindsets that demonstrated our focus on a positive donor journey.  You need whatever you need to SIMPLY tell the story and keep yourself focused on one thing – providing a meaningful donor experience.  In this case, what should the board/council member’s experience be like?

10.  Call to ACTION!

Using my three sentence ask – ASK for the action you want. Generally I want one action – but for this there were two – paraphrased – “You have been long time supporters. You understand the new model will transform care. Would you consider continuing to serve on this Council and continuing the conversation about your role – your investment in the initiative?”  Then I ask for head nods, verbal yeses, and wohoos!  We got all three – from everyone there.

Wozaa!  Done!

And now – the fun and important work of, indeed, continuing the conversation.  Make this as much as possible relational and not transactional.  Remember this key truth about working with your board and volunteers….

Remind your board...

You must embrace thinking about your board/volunteers as folks who really are on your side to help you.  Deal with volunteers who are undermining the good work you are doing – they cannot be allowed to tarnish your mission. This is just one example to help you build a board that is major gifts ready. And….what happens next, and next, and next is key to your success! How wonderful to once again be able to fill our days with hugs, smiles and joy. Thank you for what you do every day to create experiences just like this.  Fear less, Raise More, SHINE ON!

Invest in JOY®

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