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Help! My Board Won’t Listen To Me!


I promised we would work harder to help you with the challenges you have with your board – many fundraisers who did Jeff’s survey last month identified this as their single biggest challenge.

Today we have invited our guru of all things board and author of Firing Lousy Board Members, Simone Joyaux to help you when your board won’t listen to you! I hope this helps, and please share your comments on the Moceanic Blog.  


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I thought you hired me for my expertise. 

Isn’t that why an organization hires a consultant? Isn’t that why an executive director hires a fundraising professional?

Dear colleagues, you and I have to stand up and speak out.

Fight, dear colleagues. Fight hard!

Remember this: Your boss and board members would not question the accountant. Your boss listens to the lawyer and the medical doctor. Your boss probably even listens to a plumber!

Remember this, too: They don’t have to know all this fundraising stuff. They don’t have to understand it all. That’s why they hired you. But they do have to respect your knowledge and expertise. They do have to listen and follow you.

Related Blog: How to Free Your Fundraising from the Destructive Power of Committees

Why don’t these people listen to us?

 Oh, the list is long! For example:

  • We picked people for the board, signalling that they’re special. Often they have lots of expertise and power in their own jobs and lives — and just don’t listen to anyone else. Including you or me! Their opinions win.
  • Many board members don’t understand what governance is — and how that’s different than management.
  • So much about fundraising is strange and often counterintuitive. “What do you mean emotions rule most decision-making? I’m your boss and I make rational decisions. I know lots of donors. I’m a donor! I don’t like that solicitation letter. And by the way, there are lots of grammatical errors!”
  • Sadly, too many fundraisers aren’t professionals at any level. They don’t even know the key players in our field. They don’t effectively lead their leaders.

Related blog: Why Commercial-Style Branding Will Destroy Your Fundraising

Related blog: Why Your Boss is Wrong: Long Letters Do Work Better In Fundraising

I could go on and on. But wait.

Please. Look in the mirror first.

You can learn everything there is to know about direct mail and fundraising events and how to solicit gifts face-to-face. You can be greatest fundraising technician around.

But ultimately, being a great technician won’t cut it. I’ve seen it over and over. You have to be an organizational development specialist, too. At least that’s what I call it.

We, fundraisers, have to understand organizational culture and behavior. That means we have to learn how and why organizations and people work well — or not. Things like:

  • Why people react the way they do — and how to facilitate conflict and its resolution.
  • How to anticipate barriers and manage them before those nasty barriers come out of the woodwork and ruin everything.
  • Developing your own competencies as a leader. Read and apply leadership theory.
  • Of course, understanding governance is central to good fundraising. Then you can help communicate boundaries and limitations between the board, board members, and management.
  • Great fundraisers design conversations by asking questions that engage people. Together you learn and only then can change happen.

How to persuade them

There aren’t any secrets or silver bullets. But here are some more tips:

  1. Be honest, genuine, authentic.
  2. Trust others and demonstrate your own trustworthiness.
  3. Learn! Read everything. Study and follow the research. Don’t tell me that you don’t have time. Make the time. That’s your choice. That’s what professionals do.
  4. Nurture a relationship with your boss. Nurture relationships with staff colleagues. Remember a relationship is two-way. Engage with them. Learn about them and their jobs. Share yourself and your job.
  5. Listen to your colleagues. Hear their stories, worries, and experiences. It’s not enough to be a good storyteller, you have to be a good listener.
  6. Share stories that illustrate good fundraising. Remember, people, learn through stories, not through facts and PPTs! Illustrate the things you want board and staff to know with recognizable and understandable vocabulary, anecdotes, and stories.
  7. Invite people in the organization to complain and whine about fundraising, and then show those same people a good, even better, way to do all that fundraising stuff.
  8. Share curious fundraising tidbits in all the right places … in staff meetings, at the board’s development committee meetings … at board meetings.
  9. Build allies — at both the board and staff level.
  10. Volunteer any time you can in your organization — on staff task forces; to help another department do something; to help the CEO.
  11. Meet regularly with the CEO. Insist on it!

And if you can’t persuade them…

Then you leave.

If you’ve tried and tried and no matter what you do they still don’t choose to learn… don’t choose to do the right stuff… don’t follow your guidance and leadership…


You deserve better.

No one can tell you when that moment is. Mostly no one can tell you if you’ve tried hard enough. However, talking with colleagues and testing your expertise and experience and asking the advice of others can help you decide.

No matter what a great organizational development specialist you are…. No matter how much you know and know how to apply and keep trying to bring others along…

Sometimes change won’t happen.

It’s not you failing! It’s them. They’re choosing not to learn and change.

You deserve better. I hope you are able to leave.

Simone Joyaux

P.S. From the Moceanic team… The more you know about fundraising, the better equipped you’ll be to lead your leaders. Make Moceanic your source for learning the ins and outs of fundraising! And you’ll want to find out more from Simone too.

Please share your experience by leaving your reply below. Simone, the Moceanic team, and our community of smart fundraisers would love to learn from your experience.




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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Sean Triner
    May 31, 2017 5:28 pm

    Fab stuff! Thanks Simone. When Simone agreed to write a blog, I knew it would be good – but this is awesome. I dare fundraisers to forward this to boards 😉 I’d be happy with the boards I am on (ChildFund New Zealand and WWF Australia) but I bet there are lot more that people would be worried about.
    The blog is great – but check out the links – especially the awesome careers guide for fundraisers:

  • Once again we have been given some fabulous information through Moceanic. It just keeps coming and so generous. This particular blog from Simone is very apt. I have worked in an organisation where the only way I could get the Board to believe what I had to say was bring in a fundraising colleague from another organisation as an “outside expert” to say what I had been saying all along. And then I reciprocated by attending one of her Board meetings with the same purpose. It worked in both cases. For some reason an outsider knows better than the employee!! Maybe I should take up plumbing!

  • Lesley Mynett-Johnson
    June 8, 2017 3:03 pm

    A great article and I especially value Simone’s insight on the need for fundraisers to be organisational specialists too. So true….. over the years I’ve heard the frustrations of so many fundraisers, the common being that organisational culture (approach, philosophy…….) is constraining their ability to raise funds.

  • I love your idea about taking up plumbing, Judy. Even as an outsider brought in, I get hassled. We’re not considered a profession yet. We have lots of work to do. Moceanic helps with the work!

  • Great points. Especially about leaving if you’ve tried your best, and you still can’t get through. Your job is to be successful. Go somewhere where you can make a real difference; not somewhere you’ll be beating your head against a brick wall. At the same time, do look in that mirror. It’s too easy to blame board members for things they simply aren’t equipped for. It’s also your job to facilitate THEIR success. Thanks Simone and Moceanic. 🙂

  • This is very helpful Simone. I also remember an insight I received from a major gifts consultant that helped me stop taking Board members’ deaf ears personally. I was complaining that board members “wouldn’t tell their surgeon what scalpel to use!” He said — “True. But board members ARE your scalpel!” I began to see things from their perspective, and I developed a lot more patience for their learning process.


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