Enabling your board members and other fundraising volunteers

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One of my pet peeves: A staff who does not adequately enable board members and other volunteers to function effectively.

Fundraisers complain about board members who don’t help fundraise. Executive Directors complain about poor governance. Look in the mirror, I say! In general, board members fundraising and board members governing are only as good as they are enabled to be. And enabling is the staff’s job.

Enabling is the process of empowering others. Enabling means giving people the wherewithal, opportunity, and adequate power to act. When you empower someone, you distribute and share your own power. And power shared is multiplied.

Enabling encourages participation, shares responsibility and authority, enhances the self-worth of others, and energizes everyone in the organization. Enabling produces the best performance from individuals and groups. And there’s another result: Enabling allows your volunteers to succeed. Then those volunteers will stick around and even do more.

Some people mistake enabling for caretaking or suspect that enabling will end up being patriarchal and patronizing. And in social service circles, the word “enabling” can be a pejorative term. But not in my vision. True enabling is a value-driven philosophy that invests influence and responsibility in all parties.

In my meaning, enabling is a set of functions—supported by attitude and skills—that builds understanding, energizes commitment, and produces results. Without good enabling, the opposite is true.

As far as I’m concerned, effective enabling may be the single most important contributor to improving your organization’s fundraising performance. And effective enabling may be the single most important contributor to improving your board’s performance.

So look in the mirror. I do. Quit whining. (I still whine, but less!)

Enabling functions—what you’re supposed to do with your volunteers:

  • Transmit your organization’s values.
  • Engage volunteers in the meaning of your organization.
  • Respect and use the skills, expertise, experience and insights of volunteers.
  • Provide direction and resources, remove barriers and help develop skills.
  • Articulate expectations and clarify roles and relationships.Communicate (which includes helping people transform information into knowledge and learning).
  • Encourage people to question organizational assumptions and ask strategic questions.
  • Ensure quality decision-making.
  • Anticipate conflicts and facilitate resolution.
  • Engage volunteers in process as well as tasks.
  • Encourage volunteers to use their power, practice their authority, and accept their responsibility.
  • Model behavior.
  • Coach people to succeed.
  • Manage.
  • Enhance attrition.
  • Monitor, evaluate, and enhance enabling.
  • Create opportunities / strategies to buy more time to think things through.

Enablers have the right attitude. Enablers:

  • respect and trust others;
  • are trustworthy themselves;
  • are comfortable with diversity and complexity;
  • welcome divergent opinions;
  • are flexible and comfortable with change;
  • commit to process as well as outcome;
  • appreciate conversation and disagreement;
  • share responsibility for success;
  • acknowledge responsibility for failure;
  • balance personal ego with egos of others;
  • persevere; and,
  • are patient.

Enablers possess essential skills. Enablers are:

  • organizational development specialists;
  • proficient teachers and learners;
  • effective communicators (listening, informing and helping to transform information into knowledge);
  • critical thinkers (anticipating problems, identifying solutions, and redirecting volunteer energies);
  • strategists (analyzing situations, identifying barriers and opportunities, capitalizing on strengths, and ensuring action and results);
  • comfortable with conflict and resolve conflict through shared power with as many individuals as possible; and,
  • effective motivators and can focus and manage people well.

For more information about enabling, see my book Strategic Fund Development: Building Profitable Relationships That Last, ISBN #0-8342-1898-4.

  • Kay Lorraine

    “Fundraisers complain about board members who don

  • Christopher

    The most important empowerment from staff to board is in the process of recruitment. The development committee and the nominating committee must work together to be sure that board candidates are identified and recruited with personal giving and active involvement in fundraising as key roles. Stating this up front will yield fewer board members but of much higher quality. If you don’t make it a requirement in the recruitment process whining about thereafter is pointless. You will spend all your time “leading them to water” and they won’t drink because that wasn’t what they agreed to when recruited. Real empowerment is being clear and up front about fundraising from board members.

  • Simone Joyaux

    Hello Kay and Christopher. I agree with both of your comments. However, I know too darn many fundraisers who do not enable at all well. Enabling is more than assigning and articulating roles. It’s hand holding and and and…. And until I see a development officer behave that way, I’m not impressed. And yes, indeed, telling the truth in recruitment is key. And even when they agree to drink during recruitment, they still need the continual enabling. So let’s go forth and recruit truthfully and enable better. Thanks for your comments. Best, Simone

  • Carl

    [quote name=”Simone Joyaux”]Enabling is more than assigning and articulating roles. It’s hand holding and and and….Best, Simone[/quote]
    We are talking about adult professionals who are charged with overseeing an entire corporation, the superiors to the staff, those with the authority to hire/fire the fundraising and executive directors, not children who should have there noses wiped or hands held. An engaging dynamic director is one who leads by example, but also one who acts in a manner like Kay described above. Volunteer helpers are way different that the responsibility taken on by being on a Board; and if a Board member needs his/her hand held that person has no business being on the Board in the first place.

  • Nathan Slovin

    I like your article & understand your message, but why wouldn’t you use “empower” rather than enable which initially, until you explained it, hit me the wrong way?