A resource development colleague called me a few weeks ago. They were upset and pissed off after a recent board meeting, and they just wanted to vent their anger. As a good friend who was just asked to lend a shoulder to cry upon, I shut-up and listened. I didn’t offer any advice because it wasn’t asked for; however, the situation that was shared with me has been burning on my mind for weeks. It is such a serious issue that I thought I’d share it here and open it up for discussion.
In a nutshell, here are the facts that color this story:
- The development director is a fixture in the boardroom and gives a “development report” at every meeting.
- After delivering their report, a board member asked a question about what the development department might look like in the future.
- While the development director had talked with the executive director about this issue in passing on a few occasions, neither of them had formally engaged on this subject in a meaningful way.
- The answer caught the executive director off guard a little bit, and they jumped into the conversation with a “sharp tongue”. This response felt demeaning to the development director, and they felt “put in their place” in front of the board of directors.
- In the days following the board meeting, the development director was verbally reprimanded and given what HR people would describe as a “verbal warning”.
I am very sympathetic to my resource development friend. It feels like the response was harsh; however, as a former executive director, I hated surprises in the boardroom, and I was a bit sensitive to how my employees interacted and engaged with board members.
All of this aside, I wonder what is the appropriate role for resource development professionals inside the boardroom. Is there one? Should the boardroom just be a place for an agency’s chief executive officer and the board of directors?
I am sure there are a number of you ready to share your thoughts about how important it is for fundraising professionals to have access to board volunteers and how strong relationships with volunteers are the key to a strong resource development program.
While I will be the first to agree with you, I keep wondering why does that need to occur in the boardroom?
Don’t resource development directors “have access” at resource development committee meetings? Special event planning meetings? Over a cup of coffee or lunch?
Isn’t the boardroom a sacred place where board members and their sole employee — the executive director — get to have frank conversations about the agency and its strategic direction?
- What role should an executive director play in the agency’s resource development program when there are fundraising professionals on the payroll?
- What should the communication protocol be for agency employees who report to the executive director and need access to board members?
- Should development professionals guard against sharing their opinions with board members when the executive director hasn’t been fully brought into the conversation? If so, how? If not, why not?
However, I want to stop the conversation just short of those topics and just focus on the boardroom question. What staff are allowed in your agency’s boardroom? What function do they serve? What protocols are in place to ensure situations like the one I just shared with you don’t happen?
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC