Organizing the Board to Support the Revenue Strategy

Board Café

Organizing the Board to Support the Revenue Strategy


  August 13, 2007

Yesterday at a women's conference, the question was asked: How many of you have donated money to a nonprofit sometime in the last year? About 2/3 of 200 people raised their hands. And how many of you have volunteered for a nonprofit sometime in the last year? About 4/5 raised their hands. And how many of you have been beneficiaries of a nonprofit in the last year? Only eight.

Then it was pointed out that many in the audience have a parent who had been in a nonprofit hospital, had attended a nonprofit music concert, or had a son in a nonprofit soccer league. In addition, many in the group were simply alive because Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Consumers Union have lowered car accident fatalities. Many owe their jobs to prior work done by activists for civil rights and women’s rights. All were breathing cleaner air that day because of environmental activists. When asked again, 100% smilingly raised their hands.

Board Café readers are a special group. How about . . . once a month . . . each of us makes it a point to explain this to someone who doesn’t get it? :) – Jan Masaoka, Chef/Editor

This month’s tidbits
Dear Board Café

How long should the executive director's report be at the board meeting?
–Sleepy in Schenectady
Dear Sleepy: At a regular board meeting, perhaps 10 minutes, unless a special presentation is being made. The ED's report should be written and sent to the board ahead of time. At the board meeting, board members should ask questions or comment on items in the written report, and the ED can give a quick update on significant events that have occurred since the report was written. Board meetings should focus on the Critical Path items for the board and the organization, not one-way reporting from staff.

Reaching Out Through Ethnic Media

Did you know that San Francisco has six Chinese-language dailies, not to mention five Spanish-language newspapers, two African American newspapers and two Filipino papers? Many nonprofits are based in communities of color, and they, along with mainstream organizations may not be taking full advantage of the vibrant ethnic press sector. Start by calling the editors of these papers and ask to have coffee—both to learn how to reach out through the newspapers and how to help the papers cover your work. Don’t know what the ethnic papers are in your area? Start by a visit (on foot or via the web) to your public library.

This month’s main course article

Organizing the Board to Support the Revenue Strategy

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:

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.

Related articles archived (free) on the web at

Next time in the Board Café: What to do with a disruptively difficult board member.


The Board Café Emporium

 Different items each issue . . . and many are free

Great Boards for Small Groups: A 1-Hour guide to Governing A Growing Nonprofit, by Andy Robinson. Available at or

Nonprofit Genie. Get a free, excellent series of Frequently Asked Questions and answers about fundraising, written by the legendary fundraiser Kim Klein., then select "Fundraising". Nonprofit organizations above a certain size are required to submit Form 990 to the IRS each year. You can see your organization’s 990, as well as the 990s of others, at

Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Orgs, A Practical Guide & Workbook, 2nd edition, by Mike Allison & Jude Kaye. This guide can be adapted to fit any timeframe and is filled with real-world insights, planning tips, and useful pointers. Available at

Boards That Love Fundraising: A How To Guide for Your Board, by Robert Zimmerman and Ann Lehman. Available at for $29.00 plus shipping + handling.

Planet 501c3, by Miriam Engelberg. The cartoon strip for nonprofits. Free at


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