Nonprofit Nation with Julia Campbell

What The Best Boards Do Differently with Sabrina Walker Hernandez

September 06, 2023 Julia Campbell Episode 105
Nonprofit Nation with Julia Campbell
What The Best Boards Do Differently with Sabrina Walker Hernandez
Show Notes Transcript

This episode is sponsored by Bonterra. Bonterra is a social goods software company focused on powering those who power social impact with best in class fundraising engagement, program management, and CSR solutions. By bringing together intuitive technology and social impact expertise, Bonterra enables unmatched connectivity between organizations and their communities of supporters and constituents, ultimately creating more ways for social good organizations to maximize their impact. To learn more about selecting the right tech for your nonprofit, go to 

Few things are more critical to your nonprofit’s health, success, and sustainability than an effective board of directors. But building and keeping an engaged board is a challenge that many nonprofits face, large and small.

My guest this week is Sabrina Walker Hernandez, fundraiser extraordinaire and total pro when it comes to “doing fundraising differently” and thinking outside of the box. She is still my #2 most downloaded podcast episode - What The Best Fundraisers Do Differently

Sabrina is a certified consultant, coach, & facilitator that helps small nonprofit Staff & Board build relationships that convert into more donations. She has over 25 years of experience in nonprofit management, fundraising, and leadership. Among Sabrina’s successes is that she increased operation revenue from $750,000 to $2.5M and completed a $12M comprehensive capital campaign in the 3rd poorest county in the United States. She has facilitated numerous workshops with hundreds of nonprofit professionals. Sabrina is certified in Nonprofit Management by Harvard Business School. She is an active community leader and volunteer in Edinburg, Texas where she is based.

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How to support your board in resource development, tap into their fundraising strengths, and transform them into a fundraising powerhouse;
  • Understanding the role of the board in the resource development & fundraising; 
  • Ways to engage the board in each of these roles; 
  • Ways that staff can support the Board in resource development & fundraising.

Connect with Sabrina

About Julia Campbell, the host of the Nonprofit Nation podcast:

Named as a top thought leader by Forbes and BizTech Magazine, Julia Campbell (she/hers) is an author, coach, and speaker on a mission to make the digital world a better place.

She wrote her book, Storytelling in the Digital Age: A Guide for Nonprofits, as a roadmap for social change agents who want to build movements using engaging digital storytelling techniques. Her second book, How to Build and Mobilize a Social Media Community

Take my free masterclass: 3 Must-Have Elements of Social Media Content that Converts

This episode is sponsored by Bontera. Bontera is a social goods software company focused on powering those who power social impact with best in class fundraising engagement, program management, and CSR solutions. By bringing together intuitive technology and social impact expertise, Bontera enables unmatched connectivity between organizations and their communities of supporters and constituents, ultimately creating more ways for social good organizations to maximize their impact. To learn more about selecting the right tech for your nonprofit, go to WW dot Bontera. That's B-O-N-T-E-R-R-A. Thanks and on to the episode. Hello, and welcome to Nonprofit Nation. I'm your host, Julia Campbell, and I'm going to sit down with nonprofit, industry experts, fundraisers, marketers, and everyone in between to get real and discuss what it takes to build that movement that you've been dreaming of. I created the Nonprofit Nation podcast to share practical wisdom and strategies to help you confidently find your voice, definitively grow your audience, and effectively build your movement. If you're a nonprofit newbie or an experienced professional who's looking to get more visibility, reach more people, and create even more impact, then you're in the right place. Let's get started. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Nonprofit nation. Happy to have you here today. And we're in for a treat, because today is one of my most downloaded guests, most listened to episodes. Our first conversation was in 2021. And the title of that episode, you want to go look it up? It's called what the best fundraisers do differently. And my guest is Sabrina Walker Hernandez, and I'm so, so thrilled to have you with me again, Sabrina. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here. I'm excited to talk about this topic. It's actually a topic that I love to talk about because I think boards get a bad rap. Absolutely. So I'm not going to spend a lot of time on Sabrina's bio. You can look it up in the show notes. She's been on the show. A lot of you know who she is. But just to give you a little bit of a background, sabrina helps nonprofits and small businesses increase revenue, and that's really kind of the bottom line. And also build better boards that help build revenue. So that is what we're going to talk about today. We're going to focus on how we can structure maybe our staff, our volunteers, and what are some of the things we can put in place to build better boards, engage better boards. But before we do that, Sabrina, I'd love to have you tell us a little bit about what's been going on since you were last on the podcast. Since 2021. Seems like kind of a lifetime ago. And what do you focus on now? It does seem like a lifetime ago, but you know what? Time goes slow and fast all at the same time. And so what I've been working on really is just facilitating to a lot of boards and helping a lot of CEOs with their boards, because people always say they have a fundraising problem. But when I start to dig, it's not a fundraising problem, it's a board problem. And they really don't know how to inspire and manage their board. And you do have the receipts and what we talked about it before. One of your greatest successes, as listed in your bio, is when you increased the operation revenue from$750,000 to two and a half million dollars over an eight year period. At one of the organizations that you worked at. As well as being responsible for the planning, operations and completion of a $12 million comprehensive capital campaign establishing a $500,000 half a million dollar endowment in the third poorest county in the United States. So you've overcome some obstacles. When people say they can't fundraise, what do you tell them? I said, you can fundraise. It takes effort, but it also takes a team. And your board is your team. And you need to look at them as a team. And you need to go into board meetings serving as a cheerleader, really. And it can't be that conversation or that dread of, oh my God, my board doesn't do anything, or oh my God, I can't get them to respond to my email. Those things that we tell ourselves. So you have to just ask yourself, okay, maybe they don't communicate by email. Everybody is different. Some people are email, some people are text, some people are WhatsApp? You have to figure out how to. Communicate with that individual board member. And you're treating them as a collective, and you have to build a relationship with individuals. You answered my question. My first question is, what are we getting wrong about boards? Like, what are some of the myths and misconceptions? And I think you addressed that. You said we need to look at them as team members, and we need to look at them as we're all in this together and not this sort of a group of people in an ivory tower that are untouchable that we can't talk to. Exactly. You have to talk to them. You have to build relationships with them, individual relationships. There's a strategy to it. I say you have to get to know each of your board members. Now, some of them you might get to know a little bit better than others, right? And I call the ones that you get to know a little bit better. I call them your board champions. Right? They are the board members that you want to get something done, and you need to have a board voice. Then they will champion your message for you. Those are your board champions. You spend a bit of more time with your board champions. You also need to spend time with your board chair. Once a month, you should be meeting with your board chair. Everybody has to eat, so go to lunch once a month. Share the good, the bad and the ugly. Share it all because you're a team and you're in it together. What I notice is a lot of executive directors, they only talk to their board at the board meeting or right. Before sending the agenda or something, send. Them the agenda and then you're the one creating the agenda. They have no process in the agenda. And I'm like, how is that a board meeting? The CEO is creating the agenda. The CEO is talking throughout the whole board meeting. How is that a board meeting? It's a presentation. And so they come to that presentation and same person talking. It becomes monotonous. And who wants to go to a meeting like that? And so you have to become a cheerleader for your board members. Create opportunities of engagement when you're doing the agenda, have a draft of the agenda and you and the board chair, some say board chair, you could put the agenda together. For me, I did it with my executive committee. We met at I'm not a morning person, Julia, I'll tell you that straight. I'm not a morning person either. I hate it. But this group, if I wanted to engage them, they worked and I worked, but not like that. A

strenuous strategy meeting. Exactly. So at 07:

00 a.m. In the morning, this group met my executive committee. I walked in with a draft agenda, gave everybody a copy. The resource development chair said, let's add this to the agenda, the nomination committee. So everybody got to add pieces to the agenda. And we all worked on the agenda together. And then that's the agenda and the packet that we sent out. Now, as I as the CEO, could I have just done the agenda myself? Yes, very capable of doing that. But that does not create moments of engagement for your board. And sometimes we get so caught up in the doing that we forget to create moments of engagement. I love that. I want to get more into moments of engagement. But I think what you said is so impactful because my biggest experience being on a board is I'm on the school board and it's different than being on a board of a nonprofit. But the rules of engagement, I think, still apply because we are making policy and setting financial direction. And for us, the CEO is a superintendent, but we all work on the agenda together. The board chair and the superintendent create the agenda, but they send it to us and they say, what are topics for future meetings? What else would you like to see on it? We're forced to have open meeting laws so we can't talk in private. But at the board meetings, when we talk, everyone has their own opinion. They can weigh in on the agenda and they can say, I would like to talk about this. This is something I'm concerned about. I would like to learn more about this. Can we bring some more research on this. I remember during COVID we frequently were saying, can we bring in the health nurses from the schools? Can we bring in a teacher to weigh in on this so we could make these requests? And it makes you feel empowered if you just are handed an agenda and you say, okay, you have to vote on this. You have to do this, you have to look at this, you've got to read these documents and these exhibits before the meeting and be prepared. But you don't have any actual agency in the agenda. I think it's disempowering. So what you're saying is so powerful. Yeah, you need to empower your people and create those moments of engagement because that gives them ownership, that gives them voice. And so that's the first thing. Create those moments of engagement. And it starts with the agenda. Be a part very much to what you just described is a great way to go about doing it. And then from there they are in the agenda. When you are planning the agenda as well, who's going to talk about what topic? It shouldn't always be just one person, right? It should not be one person. And if you are in my case of the organization, we had a first vice president, second vice president, third vice president. So third vice president was program and so forth, resource development, nomination. So if that topic was on the agenda and you asked for it to be there, then you were going to be the one to lead that discussion. And so everybody had an opportunity to speak other moments of engagement that we intentionally put in the agenda for board members. Remember, you are the cheerleader. This should be a cheerleading session for your board. Start your board meetings off with mission moments. So those mission moments, I don't care what kind of organization you are, you can always have a mission moment, whether that's a client talking or you can have a video. If you're animal, shelter some animals, if you're a zoo, bring in a snake. I don't care what it is. That would be amazing. I want to be on the board of zoo. It would be right? Because then they can come in with a little snake or the chimpanzee. I'm afraid of snakes, right? So I will be leaving that meeting talking about that experience. And that's what you want. You want to create armies of ambassadors talking about your meeting, not dreading the meeting. Like we're going to talk about the same thing we talked about the last time. Why am I here? Why am I wasting my time? They know that they're going to get introduced to something. So have those mission moments right at the top of your board meeting. And not only that, here's the assumption that I make. Put your mission statement at the top of your agenda. It's an assumption that I make that everyone is doing that and I don't think that's the case. So put it in writing right at the top of your agenda. Kick your board meeting off with a mission moment. Right. And then some people and I serve on this museum board, and I think he does this fabulously he creates mingle moments because he has to do a CEO report. I was lucky I didn't have to do a CEO report. But he does. It's a part of their history. It's a part of what they do. But what he's done that's very good with the CEO report, he uses that as mingle moments for the board. So basically, he'll ask a question. He'll pair us up and he'll ask us a question, like, talk about why you joined this board. And then you have those conversations, and then you'll come back and do like, a little reflective moment about did anything resonate for anyone? And you always pick up a nugget. Always. So that's what you're trying to create. And I say it's a good thing, because what I realize is not a lot of board members know each other. That's true. Basically, you don't know these people you're serving on this board because you both care about the mission or someone asked you, but you don't know each other. And so you have to create moments where they get to know each other. Because as a team, you're trying to go in the same direction, but in order to have a true team that's going in the same direction, you got to build trust. And so creating those opportunities where trust can be built is key. Giving your board members an opportunity to engage with each other and talk with each other right. Is key. I agree, because we always assume they might just know each other and move in the same circles, but they don't. They often don't. Not necessarily. I serve on this board, and it's like 24 of us, and I knew maybe ten people in the room, so that means I didn't know a majority of the people. And so the fact that he creates these moments for us to get to know each other and figure out why you're serving on this board or what do you think you bring to the board? One of the best things that I've done with that organization is they had three tables up, and they had a staff person at each table, like cocktail tables. And then he divided us into groups and gave us five minutes with each staff person talking about the strategic plan and what their role was in the strategic plan and how did they need board support. And then the timer went off, and we rotated to the next one, and it was three groups. And I thought, genius. That's a great way to bring the strategic plan alive and allow board members to know firsthand from the staff and what board members need to do in order to make it happen. So traditionally we just sit and tell board members, we need to fundraise, we don't have enough money. We need to fundraise, we don't have enough money. But we don't explain the why. We don't get to see the staff. And so the staff can tell us, yeah, we're behind on this because A, B, and C, and we need this so that we can move forward. We don't get to hear it from anybody else. So I thought that was genius. I think that's a great point. And I also want to ask you, what is the board's role in fundraising and resource development? Because I think a lot of organizations are conflicted on this. So what do you think? So the board has three roles, period. Trusteeship. That's the planning, that's strategic planning, looking at the mission and the vision and making sure that that's happening or developing it. In some cases oversight or governance. Some prefer to use the word governance because if you use the word oversight, then some people take it as they need to be in the business of daily operations and that need to be in the weeds. Yeah, board members should not be in the weeds. I will say this very clearly, that the CEO or Executive Director is the gatekeeper for the staff and the board chair is the gatekeeper for the board. So if you are a board member and you're getting into the day to day operations, you are overstepping your boundaries. There's no nice way to say it. You have to be direct, period. And then third is to ensure necessary resources. So when we're talking about ensuring necessary resources, it's not just the fundraising, but it's also ensuring that you have a qualified Executive Director that comes with ensuring necessary resources. And so when you are ensuring necessary resources, do you have a budget? There's so many boards that I'm so surprised when people tell me they don't have a board approved budget, operating budget, and they don't look at the finances on a monthly basis. So those are the things under ensuring necessary resources. That's a part of what you do. And not only under ensuring necessary resources, a part of what you do. I put that as well as if you are a board member of an organization, it's your time, your talent, and your treasure. I don't understand the debate of is it a give or get? Because it's a give and a get. You are the highest member of the family if you look at it in that way. And so it should be time, talent, and treasure. So you should be giving personally to the organization because it's hypocritical for you to go out and ask others to give, whether that other is a grant. I don't care if it's a federal grant, whether that other is an individual. It is hypocritical for you to go out and ask others to give when you're not investing yourself. So if you just want to give your tithe. We have a great committee for you. If you want to give your talent, then you can make a great presenter at the next board meeting or the next event. If you just want to give your treasure, then you'll make a great donor, and that's good. None of those are wrong within itself. But to be a board member, you need to give your time, your talent, and your treasure, because you are the highest governing entity, the highest member of that family. And so you need to come with all three. Oh, I know. Trust me. I've worked with organizations, and they have said one of those three is fine. And I agree with you. I think there are roles and there are ways that you can do all three separately. But if you want to say that you are a governing board member, there has to be a way, whether it's $5, like, whatever it is. And I always feel like I can't be asking my friends and my network and my family to give to an organization unless I have also given exactly something. It doesn't have to be$1,000. It doesn't even have to be $100. But I can't say, like, I'm just thinking, my sister is running the boss of Marathon, so I'm sending her link out, her fundraising link, and my husband was going to send it out, and I was like, no, we both need to make a donation. You can't just ask people to give to something that you haven't given to. Exactly. I would personally feel like you just said hypocritical about that. Yeah. And it's such a powerful statement when you say, join me in donating what you can. Right. It's power in that statement. And so I want to be very clear about that. And here's the other thing. Since I got this platform and you have all these people listening, I'm so happy. Here's the other thing. When you are talking to potential board members, please don't skip the conversation about fundraising. Don't skip it. Don't gloss over it. Don't say, oh, it's just 45 minutes a month. It's no time, it's nothing. Don't set people up for failure. Be honest with them. I use this document called 120 Hours. It's about 120 hours to serve on a board of directors. And that 120 hours can be your board meeting, your planning, your retreat, your fundraising. All of that comes out to about 120 hours. So talk about the time commitment. Talk about the financial commitment. Here's the thing on the financial commitment, people will glaze over the fundraising. We don't want to talk about fundraising because that's going to scare them off. And I'm amazed by that because I'm like, yes, if they get scared off by the fundraising, then they're not meant to be on the board. But what you're going to do if you don't talk about fundraising is they come on the board and then the first meeting, what do you do you talk about fundraising? Yeah, they feel like the rug has been a little bit lifted under them. Yes. And the conversation around fundraising is a clear conversation. And that's where if I can get people to understand the clear conversation, board members need pathways. So if you are coming on this board, the conversation would be each board member is responsible for raising $3,000. But here's the pathway. You would join, let's say the Heritage Associates. In order to join the Heritage Associates, the minimum is$1,500. You will sell one table at our special event. That table is$1,000, and you will sell five raffle tickets at $100 each. So that's your pathway to the $3,000 lay out. A clear pathway for people I love. It like a menu. Yeah, here's the menu, and we support you. This is the pathway. But we talk about fundraising in these generalities with board people, and we don't tell them what the pathway is. That's true because we think somehow everyone knows what fundraising is, and a lot of people do not really know. And they have never asked someone else for money. They've never raised money. They've never worked in development or in nonprofit. So you're right. Let's all have this shared vocabulary of what we mean. And I completely agree with the expectations. I want to shift gears a little bit, because I do want to talk to you about diversity on boards. Board source found that 84% of board members identify as white and that nonprofit employees are approximately 82% white, and they're 10% African American, 5% Hispanic or Latino, 3% identify as other, 1% Asian or Pacific Islander. As we know, in the US. Population, 30% of the US. Population are people of color, and that figure is expected to grow to 50% by 2042. So what steps can we take to recruit a board that looks more like our community and the country in general? I think that the steps that we can take is really laying out doing a board matrix and knowing what your gaps are. First of all, what are your skill gaps? Let's talk about that. What are your skill gaps? And not only your skill gaps, what are your industry gaps? So if you know what your skill gaps are or you're looking for perhaps someone that is a visionary or someone in this industry, whatever that is, know what you're looking for. And then when you know what you're looking for, you can actually try to identify people who have those skill set that are minorities. What I know is that it looks the way it looks because people will recommend or work with people that they associate with. So most of the time, we stay in our silos. Right? And what I mean by silos is I work with a lot of black nonprofits, a lot of Hispanic nonprofits boards are Hispanic or their boards are black because we look to our own circle. And what we have to challenge ourselves to do. Everybody is to look outside of their circle, but not look outside of their circle. Just for racial identity. You need to look outside of your circle and understand that they have to have this skill set that you need or represent this industry that you need. Because no one, and I'm going to say this with all heart, no one wants to be the token black person on a board. And so you have to make sure that you're not doing that or the token minority on the board. That's not the environment you want to create. And so if you are recruiting me as a black person, but you are telling me this is the skill set that we need and you have that skill set and this is what the industry that we're short on and you in that industry, then I know I'm coming because I bring value. I'm bringing value to the organization and my value is not tokenized. And so I think you have to be very clear about that. So I always say, regardless, start off with the matrix. What ages do you have? What genders do you have, what skills, all those things. And then be very intentional about who you recruit that can fill those gaps. That's my opinion. No, I think that makes a lot of sense because oftentimes when we talk about diversity, and I'm sure you get this a lot, people immediately think about just race. But diversity involves, like you just said, gender. It involves gender identity, it involves sexual orientation, it involves disability, it involves college educated, maybe not college educated. There's so much that is in diversity, equity and inclusion. But I do think that organizations do just turn to race and think, oh right, we need to get a person on our board. There is nothing worse than being the token person of color on the board. Nothing worse. And I think that that is disrespectful. So be careful of that and make sure again, that you know what gaps you have so that when you speak to someone, you can speak to them about the gaps. Exactly. And when you're talking to board members and saying, look, we need to maybe get some of the dead weight off this board, or maybe we need to change things up and refresh it. But be specific. Don't just say we need young people, we need this, we need that. Be more specific about the skill sets that you're missing and then be more intentional. And I think what really and I know that you see this all the time, that's a lot of work. And I don't think a lot of people really want to do that work. They don't want to do that work. But it's worth the effort. It's worth it. You start mapping out what you have, you can see what you need and it goes to even like, how do people think? Are they strategic thinkers, are they consensus builders? Are they visionary? You need all of those different things to make it work. Because imagine if you didn't do that and you got a bunch of consensus builders on your board, you would never get anything done because they want everybody to have buy in all that they need to build this consensus. So you need to have a diversity of approaches around that too. So it's about all of those things. What about difficult or toxic board members? Now, I think that actually that's kind of a loaded question because you can have the board member that doesn't do anything, but they're not difficult or toxic. Then you could have the challenging board member, but then you can actually have a toxic board member. How can we maybe ask them to reevaluate their priorities or leave gracefully to make room for other people? Well, there is a couple of things. If you have term limits, that's one, right? If you have those term limits and you're actually following your term limit and they're close to the end of their term limit, then you're like, okay, let them term out. I've done that before. If you don't have term limits, which I suggest that you do get term limits if you don't have term limits, here's what I have done. I'm just going to be very honest with you. First of all, you have to decide, are they toxic board members? Are they just devil advocates? Right? Because sometimes we confuse the two. It's okay for board members to ask questions. You want them to ask questions. And so you need to be very clear and understanding that they are toxic board members, that they are not fundraising or they bring drama. They're getting over into managing day to day operation of staff, those kinds of things. If that's the case, here's what I've learned a little trick along the way. You and your board chair have to be on the same page. You have to be on the same page, and you meet and you discuss where you want to go. And then from there, you have to be on the same page with the nomination committee in charge of how the board looks. And I've done this, so bear with me. So then once everybody's on the same page, then you traditionally come up with a topic or policy that the toxic board member is on the other side of, if that makes sense. So let's say if you were saying 100% of the board has to give and they are on the opposite end of that, but you vote that policy in, that toxic board member will oftentimes remove themselves. That's how I've dealt with that situation before. Get a policy approved that they're on the opposite end of and they will walk away. And do you want them to walk away? Disgruntled? No, not necessarily. But they will walk away. And when they walk away, I always say try. As much as you can to have them exit with grace. And how do you have them exit with grace? We always did a little we call it plaque. So we would give them a little plaque, thank them for their service, make a big something for them. Not a party, but at a board meme. Thank them for their service or at the Christmas banquet or whatever you have. Thank them for their service publicly and then have them exit out. So that's the way I've handled that situation in the past. So you're not burning bridges. You're making it so that they have decided that this is just maybe not the place they need to be. And that's fine. And it's so funny, the complete analogies to the school committee, because that's happened where we've had meetings. And if there's a vote, there's a vote. Sorry if you don't agree with it, but majority rules. And if you decide, you can go forward and move on and support the vote. And I think it's so important that you're all in consensus. Like, once there's a vote and we decide on something, you have to be a team member or just don't speak out publicly against it. Or you can recuse yourself. I mean, there's choices that we all have. So I know that we're coming up to the end of our time. Sabrina, we could talk for literal days about boards. So where can people learn about you, work with you, get some good resources from you? Yes. So they always say just do one call to action. So here's my call to action. Visit my website, which is Now, from there, you can link to me on all of my social media channels. You can watch my blogs, my know, I follow you. Julia, I got blog YouTube, I got all stuff. And so you can link from there. But yes, WW is where you can find me. Thank you. Okay, supporting worldhope. I will put all of that in the show notes so that everyone can just quickly link to it. And thank you for sharing your expertise and just all of your generous wisdom. I know that we need it, and I know that people out there, they're searching for it and they really need it. So. Thanks, Sabrina. Thanks for coming on again, thank you. And guys, sorry about the voice. It's the allergy season. Well, hey there. I wanted to say thank you for tuning into my show and for listening all the way to the end. If you really enjoyed today's conversation, make sure to subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast app and you'll get new episodes downloaded as soon as they come out. I would love if you left me a rating or a review because this tells other people that my podcast is worth listening to, and then me and my guests can reach even more earbuds and create even more impact. So that's pretty much it. I'll be back soon with a brand new episode, but until then, you can find me on instagram at julia Campbell 77. Keep changing the world, you nonprofit unicorn.