Part two of a two part interview…View part one here
Success in business is not enough. In fact, nonprofit involvement –and giving – can be a greater “buzz” than continued business growth. “After becoming reasonably able to share, a person realizes that the buzz you get from sharing can be greater than the buzz you get from daily life in business. Ten percent growth year-after-year doesn’t always equal the buzz of giving ten percent to the community.” That’s the experience of Mike Bruns, founder of Comtrak Logistics, a national transportation and logistics company headquartered in Memphis.
“The true donor misses the boat if they don’t get just as much back in their heart, meeting people and making friends,” Bruns continued. “Involvement brings satisfaction – it makes the donor feel good. I was chair of Youth Villages for so many years, and they did as much for me as I could ever do for the organization.”
Youth Villages, also headquartered in Memphis, is a leading national nonprofit dedicated to providing the most effective local solutions to help emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families live successfully.
“Youth Villages grew as a result of a wonderful culture, incredible leadership team, and a management team that knew this was a business. Nonprofit is more than a feel-good. Many stall out because the person who started the organization didn’t surround themselves with good business people. At Youth Villages the leadership surrounded themselves with business people who helped them run the organization like a business, but not at the expense of their passion. They serve 60,000 young people and they measure everything. ‘Feel good’ doesn’t last long if the business model doesn’t work.”
That goes for the board as well. The biggest challenges Bruns has experienced arise when board members don’t know what is expected of them. “That has to be done on the front end. You can’t read a board manual to people. You need to explain their job description, financial expectations, and share with them why they were recruited. They have to become involved with the organization and passionate about it. Board members who are engaged and feel a part of something come to meetings. This solves the problem some boards have where they spend almost half their time worrying about the best time to get attendance. As board chair I focused on getting engagement. So many boards operate without engagement.”
Bruns closed with his perspective on board members’ reluctance to fundraise. “When a board member is not prepared, and is not personally passionate, the gifts he solicits become a ‘trap’ wherein he now ‘owes’ an equal gift to the donor’s nonprofit of choice.” The solution: “Be prepared and sell the nonprofit on its merits; then people give to the organization and not to you. You then are free to make your gifts based on merit too.”
Part one of a two part interview with Mike Bruns
Mike Bruns possesses the characteristics of an ideal board member: deeply engaged with the organizations he supports, generous as a donor, and he treats his nonprofit involvement with the same seriousness he applies to business ventures. He has a great sense of humor, a kind heart and a warm smile. He’s also the founder of Comtrak Logistics, a national transportation and logistics company headquartered in Memphis, and chairman emeritus of Youth Villages, a national nonprofit. We recently talked with Bruns to learn the secrets to his success as a nonprofit volunteer leader.
We asked what he looks for in a nonprofit when deciding whether or not to become involved. His response was straight-forward, “I do not want to be a part of an organization that is a fixer-upper, or is trying to make payroll by Friday. I want to support organizations who want to grow to the next level. The ‘heart tug’ is always trumped by an organization that is well run. With a well run organization I can work with other board members to help grow it to the next level.”
It’s not that he is opposed to the “heart tug.” In fact, Bruns is passionate about the organizations he is involved with. “I truly believe in the organizations I become a part of. And I expect that of fellow board members. There’s nothing worse than leadership that is begrudging or ‘resume building.’ The secret to success lies in the passion of the leadership.”
Equally straight-forward were his comments regarding expectations of fellow board members in the area of fundraising. He cited the lack of board giving as the number one obstacle to fundraising success. “There’s nothing worse than a board member soliciting money and they haven’t made a meaningful gift. It doesn’t always have to be all money – it can be meaningful giving of time. But they have to believe in the organization and be engaged.”
Comparing fundraising to sales, Bruns was critical of board members who are not qualified to “sell the product.” For that he places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of leadership, “What is the orientation? Without proper training, orientation, knowledge, feeling and involvement a board member can’t ‘sell’ the nonprofit to potential donors. You can’t sell what you don’t know or believe in.”
Next week: Nonprofit success: more than “feel good”
Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them @saadshaw.
Donors and funders don’t necessarily tell you why they won’t fund your nonprofit. Many will make their evaluation based on your organization’s presentation and reputation without sharing their objections. But, if you know the criteria by which you will be judged you can proactively prepare.
We recently had a candid conversation with corporate representatives to learn what they look for when investing in a nonprofit. Not surprisingly, the conversation started and ended with a focus on the role of the board of directors. Funders assess the board in determining whether or not to give, and the level at which they will give. That assessment includes a look for corporate representation. They want to know who is on the board, how they are involved, what they collectively give, and how much they raise. They look at small cues that communicate an organization’s capacity and board engagement: who circulates throughout the community with the executive director? Is he or she accompanied by other board members or senior staff when attending meetings or events? Do board members identify themselves as such they circulate personally and professionally?
The funders we talked with see the board as the party responsible for sustaining and growing a nonprofit. They want to know if the board can provide the resources and funding to grow the organization, with or without the executive director. They won’t invest in nonprofits where the board does not demonstrate the leadership required to guarantee growth. Having a strong executive is not enough.
Related to current board involvement is the issue of “the bench.” Funders want to know how the current board is engaging and cultivating future board members. For community-based organizations the questions relate to the process of growing from a community board to a diverse board that integrates, welcomes and engages professionals and corporate representatives. Those we talked with mentioned the importance of boards knowing what type of leadership model they seek to emulate. While concerned about funding for today, these funders are equally focused on an organization’s ability to succeed in future years. They want to know about succession planning: who is capable of ensuring continuity of operations should the executive abruptly leave. They want to know if and how the board surrounds the executive director with professionals who can help attract people resources.
Finally, they made it clear that they invest in nonprofits where their employees provide board leadership: funding and resources follow employee board engagement.
The bar is set very high. But you can’t meet the mark if you don’t know what it is. If you have been struggling to grow your organization to a new level of operations, and seeking corporate support, you may want to consider looking at your nonprofit from the perspective of a corporate funder. What will they see?