Get in Gear…ENGAGE!

4 05 2009

Before a car can move, you have to put it in gear; engage the engine. In the past few months, a trio of articles prompted an ‘aha’ moment, after idling in the back of mind for a while. 

Last week, the Bridgespan Group published a report whose press release was titled “Nonprofit Groups Fear Shortage of Senior Management, Qualified Candidates.” Then, as I read this report, I recalled an article back in November, titled, “Loss of Connection Leading Reason Wealthy Donors Stop Giving,” by the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University and Bank of America. Concurrently, I had just completed writing a series on Populating a Board of Directors – what to look for, and how to recruit them.

 There’s a connection here…engagement. Donors, Management and Board Members all have to feel engaged by the nonprofit they support.

 The Bridgespan Group report focused attention on the fact that there is an anticipated 24,000 jobs for nonprofit senior management opening up in 2009. At the same time, there is a worldwide economic situation leaving tens of thousands of highly skilled private sector individuals available to help fill those jobs. Yet despite this vast pool of out-sector talent, nonprofit executives are focusing on the paucity of in-sector talent. 

The Center for Philanthropy report found that of 700 individuals with an annual income greater than $200,000 and/or a net worth of greater than $1 million, 38% had stopped supporting a charity in 2007, and 26% had stopped their support of two charitable organizations.  Why did these people stop giving? 60% said it was because they no longer felt connected to the organization.

One area I focused on in my articles on Populating a Board of Directors, was to engage prospective directors with the organization. Make new people feel connected to the mission. Nonprofit boards stagnate when there’s a lack of new perspective and lack of engagement of new people.

How are these related? In each case, there is an urgent need to communicate frequently and compellingly with individuals outside the inner circle.

In the case of major donors, consider how often you make an effort to engage them in the work, not just ask for dollars. How often do you ask for advice or tell them what their dollars are doing? Engaging a donor in the mission is vital for maintaining their goodwill toward your organization. Frankly, it’s just plain rude to ask for money and then not show that you also value them as people.

In the case of future senior management, it is important to engage the private sector in your work. Put yourself where the for-profit executives are instead of sequestering yourself in-house. Take the opportunity to talk about your mission at business luncheons. Communicate beyond your known donors, and discuss subjects beyond the need for money. Those experienced managers of the private sector could be the answer to the nonprofit hiring gap. Help private sector executives see that the nonprofit world also offers the challenges that they’ve enjoyed dealing with and mastering.

When recruiting new board members, communicate beyond the usual suspects. There is a wealth of talent outside the old boys’ network, but they won’t think of giving you that talent if they don’t know you exist or if they only think you need money. Engage that talent. Communicate how important they can be in shaping the future of the organizations.

Engagement. When a gear is engaged, it is able to power your car. When a person is engaged, he can become your greatest donor, your next executive, your exciting board leader.





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