Boards on Fire

Feeling challenged by your board? Wish they contributed more? Wish they would tell you what they want? Do you see so many fundraising opportunities but the board says it isn’t their job? Whatever your difficulty is, I highly recommend getting the book Boards on Fire by Susan Howlett. In fact, I would recommend getting copies for every board member, reading it together, and then making real changes in your organization based on the insights that Howlett shares.

Boards on Fire is a quick read, but it contains a wealth of wisdom on how to really engage board members in making the organization successful with a focus on fundraising.

The book talks about the three modes in which a board operates:

  • Fiduciary, which includes budgets, contracts, legal matters and other less interesting topics,
  • Strategic, including goals, outcomes, and new collaborations for the organization, and
  • Generative, meaning having board members think outside the box to address a systemic issue.

Ideally, the board should be spending much of its time in the generative mode, which will make their work in the strategic mode more productive.

Howlett also outlines an ideal board meeting that the members will actually want to attend. The meetings should always start with introductions and include food, both of which will help build a community amongst board members. Second, there should be a reminder of the mission of the organization, perhaps a board member sharing a recent story of the organization’s work demonstrating their mission. Third, a consent agenda can cover all reports so routine matters don’t need to be discussed. The fourth item should be a short training session for board members on either how they can be a better board member, or on a topic related to the nonprofit’s work. Finally, with this more efficient agenda, there will be time for a deep strategic discussion around the direction of the organization.

In the second half of the book, Howlett walks the reader through a sound strategy for engaging board members in fundraising, starting with their own heartfelt gift, and an equally heartfelt thank you from the organization. She closes with a case study of an organization that engaged their board in fundraising in a meaningful and successful way.

Get Boards on Fire directly from Susan Howlett’s website in PDF or paper form. The website also includes an extensive list of resources that accompany the book.

I would be happy to help you transform your board meetings based on Howlett’s model. Please contact me to discuss this further.

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