What?….No Development Committee?

I had lunch yesterday with a community foundation executive who has had great success in his role during his first year with the foundation. He’s changing the vocabulary and the culture of how resource development is practiced internally. Then he shared with me, almost as an aside, that his support and direction of the board’s development committee was hugely time consuming and producing insufficient returns from his investment. He felt that the committee was populated by board members who either felt an obligation to serve in this role or whose visibility brought advantage to the foundation’s philanthropy initiatives. Conversations with the committee too often centered around committee members trying to understand the best techniques to make the case for support. All this feels to this development executive like pulling a huge weight uphill. When he shared with me his own limiting experience as a board member volunteer for a community-based agency, he started to see the limitations very personally.

I suggested he dissolve his development committee. This was initially met with some skepticism, yet with a pinch of interest….so we continued to explore the merits.

Unless required by bylaws to have the committee, I suggested he reframe the board members’ role as being intentional storytellers. Whether harnessed through a committee activity or operating externally as a volunteer representative of the foundation, the board member’s most effective role in the development process is often to identify and introduce prospective donors to foundation leaders and to share the reason for their own involvement and support.

It doesn’t take a committee to do that.

I suggested he seek out early adopters for this idea. Certainly the CEO and key board leaders are important allies to this kind of culture shift. Helping board members consider two or three questions that they could repeatedly use in networking conversations could open doors and create prospect opportunities. Here’s just a couple examples as a catalyst to your own thinking:

  1. What gives you the most satisfaction from giving?
  2. What impact are you trying to have from your giving?
  3. What prompted you to get involved with this organization?
  4. What most influenced your decision to give?

There are 100’s of questions that could be asked. The point is not memorizing particular questions but being mindful about asking open-ended questions that help discover the heart and mind of a donor. Volunteers can easily do this by simply knowing their own answers to these questions and being able to tell their story.

If a board member is not willing to ask a couple simple questions and to intentionally tell their story of involvement, then I’ve got to wonder why they’re on the board in the first place. If every member of the board is behaving in this way on an ongoing basis, what do you need the development committee for?

By disolving the development committee, the development staff can now invest their time in relationship management activities with all board members and dirrectly with donors and prospects. The policy development, report preparation, and gift acceptance roles can be handled by staff and/or executive committees. More importantly, you’ve shifted the culture from one of unintentionally conveying that development work is done by one committee to a culture of volunteer development work (intentional storytelling) done by all board members.

So…go ahead. Consider dissolving your traditional development committee and instead emphasize each board member’s opportunity to ask 2 questions and tell 1 story.


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