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Daily Nuggets: A For Impact Blog

On Board(s): A For Impact Guide to Greater Board Engagement (Audio)


We’re reposting some of OG’s greatest hits. Here he is with the companion audio to On Board(s): A For Impact Guide to Greater Board Engagement.

“How do we engage our board?” is a question we receive with every client – this seminar is a direct answer to that question.

Here, Tom does what he does best – CHALLENGE assumptions you have about the board/staff dynamic, LEAD you with concrete frameworks and tools and SIMPLIFY everything with stories from the field.

Included in this seminar:

  • A change in perspective. “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.” – Alan Kay
  • How to change the dynamics of the board/staff.
  • How to get leaders ‘on board’ vs. ‘on the board.’
  • How to leverage a NEW leadership model.
  • How to identify the right leaders and champions.
  • 3 Key Frameworks (TOOLS) for leaders and leadership engagement.

A great seminar for senior leadership and board members, complimenting On Board(s): A For Impact Guide to Greater Board Engagement


(Recorded by Tom Suddes)
Right click here; to download file for listening offline.

9 Big Board Questions


I’ve been a part of dozens of board retreats, meetings, and planning sessions as a leader, observer, and participant. A traditional strategic planning session lays out goals and actions but often fails to address some really big driving questions.

WHAT IF we asked these questions:

  • What is our purpose or raison d’être? This is different from mission – which should be the same thing but usually ends up being more about ‘place in the world’ than purpose. Raison d’être literally means REASON FOR EXISTENCE. It’s the WHY question. If you can’t answer WHY, then WHAT and HOW are irrelevant.
  • How can we (intentionally) go out of business? In either the short term (1000 days) or long term (50+ years)? If you exist to change lives, save lives, or transform lives, then how often do we re-examine our activities and ask, “Can we find a SOLUTION?” I started to qualify this question – to say that it might not apply to some organizations, such as schools. Then I withdrew my qualification. Ask it anyway; see where the conversation takes you. Education is changing.
  • What would you do with $10M or $100M? Or pick a number that is a factor of 10x higher than anything you’re thinking about now. I once attended a retreat as a board member for Road of Life Cancer Prevention for Kids. With $100M, one board member said she would get laws changed to make health education mandatory at an earlier age and another said we should invest in longitudinal studies to understand how health prevention impacts kids. Those are two very different priorities and we weren’t doing either at that time. Ultimately, the question helped to build consensus around focusing on EDUCATION. Until the question was asked, every debate was about incremental tactics. Not Vision or even, I would argue, Strategy.
  • What Strategic Partnerships can we pursue? You have finance committees, development committees, marketing committees, campaign committees. If anything, I would like to see a partnership committee. Better yet, just a commitment to partnerships as a core priority of the organization. I haven’t seen the numbers in a while, but there are somewhere in excess of 2 million nonprofits and many more socially focused businesses (all For Impact). Current structures and strategic planning questions focus on bloat, not partnerships. We’re all trying to make a difference, so let’s make a commitment (financial resources) to exploring this full time.
  • How can we scale our Impact? Simple and open-ended, but not asked enough.
  • What are we best in the world at? Jim Collins has made this conversation prevalent (revisiting the Hedgehog Concept). It’s ultimately a question of priorities and focus. Consider finding the one thing you do very well and FOCUS on that. I can’t tell you how important this discussion is for your staff. It helps them make decisions about grants, programs, staffing, etc. Equally important is identifying those things that you’re not good at. I am a big Marcus Buckingham believer and his philosophy of focusing on your strengths.
  • Should we grow ‘wider’ or ‘deeper’? This is a scope of services question. Ultimately a lot of ‘strategic planning’ comes down to this question. Do we add more depth to our current programs (make them longer, more available, etc)? Or, do we expand our scope of services (diverse offerings, expanded continuum, etc.)? Refer back to question six to help you frame this debate.
  • How much money do we need to achieve our vision? What usually happens: we spend time tweaking funding goals based on last year’s results. It would be of huge value, to everyone, if we knew how much money we really needed to accomplish our Vision (either annually or over time via a campaign initiative).

    This question is often asked in preparation for a campaign, but not usually asked in relation to the operational/annual budget. Instead, we set a number and then allocate it (through the budget) – every year. Why not ask the question?

  • What is our business model? What business are we in? I think this goes along with several other questions and relates to strengths, focus, and priorities. It also adds clarity and could even become part of your message.

I think these questions would also SOLVE a lot of the problems I hear about every day:

  • Board Engagement/Staff Communication: It works both ways.
  • Board Meetings: If we’re on board about the big stuff it raises the level of the conversation. I think a lot of the comments I hear about board members being too detail-focused or staff members seeming unfocused is resolved when we can communicate about and focus on the big picture.
  • The Proverbial Rat Race: Incremental thinking gets incremental results (sometimes).

Download: Board Strategic Framework for Funding

Download: Board Role & Altitude (cards)

Download ‘On Board(s)’ Guidebook

Listen to ‘On Board(s) – A Guide for Greater Board Engagement’ Teleseminar (Tom Suddes)

Team Selling


These 3 Concentric Circles represent a great way to look at your organization’s TALENT and how it might be most effectively used.

The Blue-Red-Green Team is a great visual that helps with roles and responsibilities within the Sales Process.

  • Use your ‘Blue’ Team to help with predisposition, open doors, and even set up the visit. Blue Team represents best example of ‘3 Degrees of Separation’ (Kevin Bacon/6 Degrees is actually less than 3 moves (2.78) from any other actor).
  • Note: In many cases, you are only 1 person removed from who you want to see. This is especially true in Ireland and North Dakota.
  • Blue Team can be engaged before the visit or after the visit.
  • Blue Team can be on the visit but never leading the visit. There can only be one leader and it must be a Green Team member.
  • Blue Team never goes alone/solo on a visit!
  • Note: We don’t do ‘peer-to-peer’ solicitation which is just ‘trading dollars’. So, there is always a professional staff person engaged on visit.
  • Green Team is always the R.M. (Relationship Manager). No exceptions to this.
  • Red Team can help with visits, especially with phone follow-up and call backs.

This visual provided a real eureka moment for a College Sales Team: Deans can help get the visit, but the Deans don’t have to be on every visit. And they (as the Green Team) don’t have to set up every visit themselves.

Note: This framework works for a Business Sales Team as well. Share it with your Board as a nugget they might find helpful.

The Funding Role of the Board: Champion, Invite, Invest


Every single Board that we have worked with, without exception, has a very fuzzy and ill-defined ROLE for their Board vis-à-vis INCOME.

One of the very best Executive Directors I’ve ever worked with actually told me that her Board’s ‘funding strategy’ was to buy LOTTERY TICKETS! It would be funny . . . if it wasn’t true.

Here’s what the ROLE of the Board should be in an IMPACT -> INCOME culture:

  • CHAMPION… the CAUSE and the CASE.
  • INVITE… others to get INVOLVED and ENGAGED.
  • INVEST… with a COMMENSURATE COMMITMENT (to help FUND THE VISION).

Specific Board Members are also a critical part of your SALES TEAM! They can help get the visit, predispose the visit, possibly join you on the visit, and definitely help follow-up after the visit.

Some thoughts to help you and your Board better understand these 3 big words.

  • CHAMPION. The power of this word is that everyone can and should know what it means to CHAMPION your organization, your CAUSE, and your CASE. When you present these 3 roles to your Board, if there are any Board Members who are reluctant to CHAMPION your organization, they need to be removed immediately. (Call security and have them escorted from the building.)
  • INVITE. Your Board Members and Champions need the opportunity to INVITE others to become INVOLVED and ENGAGED in your Impact. Just imagine if you went to your Board and said, “We do not want you asking people for money! We need you to INVITE a qualified prospect to a tour or memorable experience.” This is 100 times better than asking them for names!

    One of the best ways we’ve found to execute on this role is with specific membership opportunities. Let them INVITE prospects to join the President’s Circle or a Legacy Society. Then they get MEMBERS… not MONEY!

  • INVEST. The ‘COMMENSURATE’ word changes everything! Every single Board Member/Champion should make an investment (in time, energy, money) that is COMMENSURATE with their relationship, capacity, and involvement with your organization.

Special Note: ‘INVEST’ has nothing to do with Board Members ‘giving or getting $10,000’. Nothing to do with ‘time, treasure and talents’ from the 1950’s.

A $250 gift from one Board Member could be both commensurate and sacrificial. A $1 Million gift from another Board Member could be neither commensurate or anywhere near a sacrifice.

This COMMENSURATE strategy allows you to take a Board Member who is a $10,000 (commensurate) investor on a visit to present the opportunity to a $1 Million investor.

We realize (from a lot of comments and feedback from our For Impact audience) that many Board Members have been told very specifically that they did not have to give money to be on the Board. We still strongly believe that you should have this discussion with your Board around their ROLE, including the ‘INVEST with a COMMENSURATE COMMITMENT’ point.

Why? Because it’s all about the IMPACT. If they believe (CHAMPION), they should both INVITE and INVEST.

The following is a direct quote from a ‘feasibility study’ conducted by a very old and well-respected consulting firm (with our caps):

The Board must feel charged with the BURDEN of the fundraising campaign‘s success.

Trustees are expected to give SACRIFICIALLY.

BURDEN. SACRIFICE. Is it no wonder that your Board Members are not enthusiastically and passionately engaged in your fundraising and your campaigns?

Read more about The Role of the Board in our Guidebook: On Boards.