Marriage and Boards

My daughter recently got (re)married.  For a variety of reasons (prior marriages, blended families that really never blended), they decided that the ceremony would be only for the three of them—my daughter, her fiancé and my daughter’s 8-year-old son. (And here we will pause for a grandmother to tell a cute grandson story:  when I recently visited, he was very excited because that morning they had gone to get the “permission slip for them to get married.”)

My (now) son-in-law really understands, in a way I did not when I remarried, that he is marrying my grandson as much as he is marrying my daughter.  They are a unit, and one of the things they needed to come to an agreement on was how he fits in.

When I got together with my current husband (that makes it sound as if I am expecting to have another and that is definitely not the case), my stepson was not quite 2 and my daughter was 15.  I don’t think either of us realized what that meant and suffice it say that over the past twenty plus years, it’s been a real shock to both of us.

I had a similar experience when I went to my second nonprofit job. I had accepted the position of Development Director—the first at the organization—without understanding how much the Board would play in my day-to-day life.  In my first fundraising job, I was part of a very large development program at a research university.  I worked a lot with my Dean and many of the faculty, and part of my portfolio was to recruit and work with an advisory board, but as far as a governing board, I’m not even sure I knew they existed.  I am sure I didn’t understand what they did.

So there I was, suddenly thrust into a situation where the Board was the important element in my fundraising efforts, working at an organization where the CEO was also the founder (I see lots of wry smiles and shaking heads here).  My boss did not want me to speak directly to any single Board member. I was invited to many of the Board meetings and could speak to the group of them there, but only after he vetted what I was going to say.

He wasn’t really the problem.  Just a symptom.  The Board members didn’t want to get their hands dirty with fundraising.  They served on this particular Board because of a commitment to the cause.  Their interest was to sit around and talk about the larger issues the organization dealt with—not the issues involving governance. And the ED was not willing to push them in any other direction.

These are issues development directors too often don’t think about until it is too late.  And they are issues EDs and Board members try not to think about at all.

Just as my daughter and son-in-law had many long talks about his role with her (now “their” ) son and his involved biological father, organizations need to have clarity how the development director will be interacting with the Board.  In larger organizations, it needs to also go down a level:  The chief development director needs to be clear how the rest of the development staff works with the Board.

On my soapbox for a moment:  If the development director does not sit at the head of the table with the development director and the Board leadership, then it must be understood that fundraising will forever be the second-class citizen who doesn’t quite get to fulfill his or her potential.

Fundraising is most successful when there is a team.  The team members are the Board.  The development director is the coach and the manager.  He or she ensures that the team members have the support they need to score.

When the Board, ED and the Development Director all work together, fundraising success is pretty much guaranteed.  Failure comes when any part of the team is either pushed to or simply sits on the sidelines, hoping that someone is out of the field, able to reach the goal all by him or herself.

Janet Levine is a consultant who works with organizations, helping them to transform and grow their fundraising capacity, build stronger boards, and more confident staff.  Learn more about her services at



About janetlevineconsulting

For over 20 years, Janet Levine has worked for and with nonprofit and educational organizations, helping to grow their advancement programs. Her consulting company, Janet Levine Consulting, serves a wide range of organizations from small, all-volunteer agencies to major national organizations. She regularly teaches courses in non-profit management, fundraising and grant development, both face-to-face and online at In addition to her nonprofit work, Janet brings years of experience as a business and sales manager in the for-profit sector. She has an MBA from the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University.
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3 Responses to Marriage and Boards

  1. asdungan says:

    This post is very “real to life.”
    I am wondering if you have any situations like this that you could speak to where the organization was much smaller, such as a five to eight person nonprofit?
    I have been a part of a nonprofit board that didn’t want to have anything to do with fundraising, but you could very much talk about it and they would shake their heads in agreement. You know what I’m talking about. 🙂
    What I want to know is, how did you fix that situation, or did you? And, is this sort of impenetrability of the development director within every organizational size? I know that where I work we talk very openly about fundraising with our board.
    I just want to hear your thoughts and past experiences more.

    • I do know exactly what you are talking about. A lot of my work is with just these organizations. What I find happens is that most of the Board members would be part of the development process–if only they knew what to do. Simply expecting them to fundraise is a losing cause: If they REALLY wanted to be fundraisers, they would have a development job. Training helps, but ultimately, the development director (or the ED if there is no development director, really has to be a very hands on coach, helping to get the Board to become effective.

  2. Ron Morgan says:

    What a great analogy; it gives a depth that often lacks when one speaks to the Board’s role in fundraising. Usually, I read articles written to potential new Board Members about the relationship in which they are entering when they choose to serve on a Board. It’s refreshing to read an article that switches gears because, just like a marriage, a fundraising relationship will best prosper when each partner is willing to meet the other at least halfway for the sake of a common vision.

    I particularly enjoyed in your comment: ” If they REALLY wanted to be fundraisers, they would have a development job.” A family prospers when its members encourage each other to exemplify the best traits of a healthy family; healthy fundraising is a sign of a healthy nonprofit, and discourse and encouragement from both parties are crucial to achieving that.

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