Board Cafe: Organizing the Board to Support the Revenue Strategy

Board Cafe

Organizing the Board to Support the Revenue Strategy

By Jan Masaoka

Board members often have a general sense of what the organization does, and a general sense of where the money comes from, but may have a hard time understanding the combination as a "business strategy." Yet every organization needs a basic strategy for obtaining funds, staff and volunteers—its "strategy for sustainability."

Once we understand how we're getting money now, we can later discuss how we might want to change it. This month in the Board Café we’ll look at organizing a board around its current revenue strategy.

Let’s imagine a community center with five areas of activity:
A. An after-school tutoring program
B. Memberships from neighborhood residents
C. Facility rentals (to basketball teams, Girl Scouts, etc.)
D. Annual Neighborhood Congress Day
E. Organizing neighbors on issues such as zoning, traffic, police presence, economic development, housing

One quick way for the board to see a picture of the organization's revenue is to draw a chart:

Revenue Chart
At this community center we can quickly see how much comes in from which sources to each program. The board can then discuss:

  • Which areas have the greatest value to our neighborhood?
  • What do we need to do to maintain our largest revenue sources?
  • What do we need to do to grow the type of revenue that will support our most important programs?

In this community center, the answers were:

  • The Neighborhood Congress and community organizing are the heart of the organization—we are a neighborhood council first and foremost.
  • But in terms of financial support, we are a tutoring center.
  • We need to have connections to government funders and foundations and make sure that we stay in touch with them.
  • As a neighborhood council, memberships and small business sponsorships are important ways to stay close to our constituents.

Organizing around our current business strategy, then, means something like this:

  • We need two board members who can and will work proactively to stay in touch with government issues and work to keep our county funding.
  • We need two board members who can and will help with foundation fundraising—whether making introductions, writing proposals, or joining staff in meetings with foundation representatives. We will try to get foundation funding for neighborhood issues, but also realize that sometimes it won't come for that.
  • We need two board members who can and will actively recruit members and local merchant sponsors.

Each pair can then develop a workplan for the year. For example, one board member might agree to set up a lunch with herself, the executive director, a city council member, and also invite someone from the Mayor's Office to tour the neighborhood. Another might say he will do one visit each month to a local business and talk about the Center.

This modest process can result in board members who are capable of supporting the revenue strategy, and organized to do so. Rather than a vague and intimidating dictum like "every board member has to raise money," this approach focuses on the organization's real-life revenue streams and mobilizes board members in support of a strategy for sustainability.

Original publication date: 8/13/2007

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