Really? An exhausted board?

I opened a LinkedIn message from an old friend yesterday who asked me the following question: “I’ve got a board member that wants to give a challenge gift. What is the best way to present this to the board of directors that is exhausted of giving?”

In my response, I encouraged him to engage the donor as well as a few key board members in answering this question. However, this email weighed on my mind during a sleepless night and I awoke this morning both tired and with many more questions such as:

  • How exhausting can it be to open a checkbook and write a check? It isn’t like running a marathon! You have to watch this YouTube video on “Marathon Exhaustion“. If this is what your board looks like during any of your fundraising campaigns, then we have to talk soon! LOL
  • Who is responsible for situations like this one? Is there shared blame between volunteers and staff? Or can this quite simply be a case of bad staff leadership?
  • Is it possible that a “challenge gift” can solve a board burnout issue? What should be done to inspire and engage board members to once again become enthusiastic donors and volunteer solicitors?

After giving it some thought, I came to the realization that I’ve seen situations like this too many times. Oftentimes, this is what is going on:

  • Both staff and board lose sight of mission and they skip from fundraiser-to-fundraiser. It almost sounds like that “It’s time to make the donuts” commercial that Dunkin Donuts ran forever ago.
  • Board and staff start taking each other for granted and the tension builds.
  • Apathy sets in … board volunteers fall short on a few fundraisers and staff somehow magically find solutions by either trimming expenses or going out on solicitation calls by themselves. This creates a negative feedback loop and the cycle has begun.
  • Everyone has gotten too cozy with each other and board development efforts have been put on ice. New volunteer prospects aren’t identified or they come from the same old inbred circles. Volunteer training opportunities are not invested in. Annual board volunteer evaluation systems are shelved.

While I can make a living by blogging on this topic alone, let me just share a few things for you to think about. There are 9-keys to inspiring your volunteers and you need to be firing on all nine cylinders to be successful: 1) maintain mission-focus, 2) involve everyone in planning, 3) create a sense of “positive” urgency, 4) develop accountability tools, 5) celebrate ALL efforts (both successes and failures), 6) bring a sense of organization to everything, 7) make sure all meetings are well run and important, 8 ) set expectations up front during the recruitment process (stop ‘soft selling’ people), and 9) invest both time and money in training opportunities for volunteers. I want to thank Boys & Girls Clubs of America for teaching me these 9-keys because they have forever changed my life.

Here are two additional articles on this subject that I thought were pretty good:

So, if the shoe was on the other foot, how would you have advised my friend? Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share? How have you dealt with similar sitations at your organization? What have you done to put the “FUN” back in fun-draising? How have you continually kept mission-focus? Please use the comment box to weigh-in. We can learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


  1. My first thought is STEWARDSHIP!
    When was the last time we appreciated and thanked our board for all that they HAVE done?
    Why is it not one of the 9 ideas to inspire a board? If you kept getting asked to do something over and over again without at least being properly thanked, how many times would you keep doing it?

    I think this is a very important issue that many non profits overlook and take their volunteers for granted. I also think this is how burnout starts taking root…many probably want to leave the board because of this issue, but they don’t know how to and they feel too guilty, and most likely they actually do believe in the mission and want to help.

    ~Small awards during an event may seem silly, but they matter!
    ~Little notes may seem like just another staff task, but they can make your workload smaller int he long run!
    ~Having a kid or other organization beneficiary make something or write a note or send a happy birthday message or even call to say thanks goes a LONG way!

    We must start stewarding our board members as we do our very best donors, because guess what – THEY ARE YOUR BEST DONORS!


    1. Hey Teri … thanks for your comments. You are right on point. I suspect that the person who developed the “9-keys” at Boys & Girls Clubs of America probably thought that “recognition and celebration” touched on your thoughts; however, I agree with you because “stewardship” goes so much deeper than just recognition and celebration. Your point about board members typically being out “best” donors is also such a great point and something so many of us accidentally forget and take for granted. Thanks for sharing!


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