Good Habits Make for Effective Nonprofit Board Members
Book - Fundraising Habits
Being a nonprofit board member is about doing all that is required—passionately, energetically, fully—to assure the growth and vitality of the organization, but getting it right requires developing the right habits. Board members, trustees, directors, whatever their title, will find a highly useful roadmap in The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Effective Boards.

Jerold Panas, a nationally esteemed fundraising consultant and prolific author on nonprofit fundraising, presents 25 habits that he says will serve all boards well. The book offers a quick, easily digestible read that promises much, as suggested by its subtitle, “A 59-Minute Guide to Assuring Your Organization’s Future.”

While aimed at those who serve on boards, the book can also serve as a guide to those who recruit new members. It can also be given to prospects to help educate them on what is expected (and what they should demand of themselves when they join a board).

Panas celebrates board members. They’re the ones in whom the future of the organization is entrusted. Hence, they're often called trustees. It’s the work of board members that lets nonprofits feed the hungry, house the homeless, educate, entertain, and do all the myriad things that nonprofits do to change and improve the lives of others.

More than anything else, board members, according to Panas, exist to ensure that the organization’s mission is fulfilled. And the way they do it is by providing resources, which often means money. Faced with a choice of cutting expenses or raising revenue to balance a budget, the right answer, he says, is to raise revenue.

“Cut the fat. But your responsibility as a trustee is to bring in the additional revenue,” he writes, adding that boards which focus on slashing expenses end up undercutting their mission.

So what are the habits of supremely effective boards? Here are a few that Panas suggests:
  • You hold in trust the mission of your organization. It provides the why that inspires every how.
  • You create an atmosphere of excellence. The road to stumbling organizational results is strewn with shoddy work and mediocre staff.
  • You’re willing to leave the comfort zone.You’re willing to go out on a limb, for that’s where the choicest fruit lie.
  • You plan. If you don’t have a roadmap, you won’t know here you’re going or how to get there.
  • The organization whose board you serve on is among your top philanthropic priorities. Trustees who fail to give place their organization in manacles #147; forged and fashioned of a rigid spirit and lowly aspirations.
The book brims with the author’s optimism for and about nonprofits. Why, he asks in essence, would you join a nonprofit board if you weren’t absolutely convinced of its value and mission? And once on it, why wouldn’t you do everything you could to help it thrive?

Based on experience garnered from four decades working with nonprofit boards, Panas understands the many ways that boards, and the organizations they serve, can get stymied. He doesn’t ignore these issues; he merely suggests that it is up the board to create the reality it wants for the organization. That, simply put, is its job.

Because board members demand much of themselves, they should know how well they’re doing. To help, Panas includes a report card they can complete.

The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Effective Boards is available from Emerson & Church, Publishers.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy

May 2010