Board Giving and Fundraising: Opportunity not Obligation

Path to effective board governance starts with clearly articulated expectations, says Berea board chair

If you poll a handful of nonprofit human service board directors about which aspect of board leadership most intimidates them, you’re bound to discover that, for more than a few of them, it’s raising money.

Although board giving and board fundraising are—or should be—key elements of board leadership, they’re often the areas that make board directors the most uncomfortable.

Dave Zentkovich, board chair at Alliance for Children and Families member Berea Children’s Home and Family Services, Berea, Ohio, has a different take. He views these elements of board membership as opportunities, not obligations.

“I think it is critical for board members to be 100 percent vested and personally give charitably each year to the organizations they serve at a leadership level,” he says. “This motivates me to make sure that my personal support is being used effectively and efficiently by the organization.”

Berea Children’s Home and Family Services requires annual charitable participation from all of its board directors and specifies that they either give or help fundraise $5,000 each year.

“We have each new board member sign a statement that articulates all of our expectations,” Zentkovich says. “In this way, there are no misgivings or misunderstandings.”

In addition to defining the expectations around financial contributions, this signed statement clearly articulates requirements related to attendance, participation, and personal fundraising.

To encourage board directors to think creatively about their fundraising role, the organization asks each new director to complete an informational form that inquires about individual, foundation, and corporate connections. These connections often open new doors for the organization’s fundraising staff, who utilize this information to seek new revenue sources.

Two-Way Street

Clearly articulating expectations of the board has helped Berea Children’s Home and Family Services recruit and retain qualified and engaged board directors. However, Zentkovich is quick to note that board directors also should have expectations of the organization.

 

“I think it is critical for board members to be 100 percent vested and personally give charitably each year to the organizations they serve at a leadership level. This motivates me to make sure that my personal support is being used effectively and efficiently by the organization.”

—Dave Zentkovich, board chair, Berea Children’s Home and Family Services

For Zentkovich and his fellow board directors, this means they trust that their skills and expertise will be both valued and utilized. The organization has established a committee structure that meaningfully engages board members in helping to set the direction of the organization, explore new opportunities, and solve problems.

In Zentkovich’s case, this meant tapping into his more than 20 years of experience in financial and strategic planning. Since joining the board in 2006, his skills have been called upon as a member of the finance, pension, and audit committees; he also was elected board treasurer in 2008.

“I would suggest that new nonprofit board members go into the experience with an open mind and enthusiasm to quickly identify opportunities to get involved,” he says. “Participating in small committees is an excellent way for new board members to get to know other members in a more personal way.”

CEO, Board as Partners

Another expectation Zentkovich and his colleagues on the board have of the organization is that they and the staff management team will work in true, open partnership.

“As owners of the organization, we, as board members, want to challenge the management staff to work to achieve our organization’s mission and vision through high-quality and effective programs,” Zentkovich says. “I believe that having clear and written goals and expectations, along with an open partnership and dialogue with management, is critical to running a quality nonprofit organization and overcoming the challenges that every nonprofit faces.”

But, even when all expectations are met, there’s another less tangible element that differentiates good governance from great governance, says Richard R. Frank, president and CEO of Berea Children’s Home and Family Services.

Zentkovich is “passionate about our mission, a great advocate, and generous with his time and talent,” Frank says. “Dave’s leadership on our board of directors has helped to make our organization stronger.”

BMP

History of Service Dates Back 146 Years

Berea Children’s Home and Family Services is a 146-year-old organization. It provides mental health, behavioral health, employment, juvenile diversion, nurturing parenting, and child care services to more than 11,000 children and families annually.

Of the clients served, 90 percent live at or below the federal poverty level. Therefore, all services are designed to empower clients to escape the poverty cycle and achieve healthy and productive lives.

The organization has an annual budget of $33 million, employs more than 800 employees, and has offices in five counties in northeastern Ohio.