AJFCA Member Login


Many boards never understand and utilize the potential each member has to invest in the organization. Having committed to a board, new members are often “on-boarded” out of any fresh, innovative, or challenging ideas they might have. Instead of grooming members to fill the usual skillset, I work to build stronger boards through understanding the value each member brings to the table.

As board members, we can work on building strength through a diversity of new members and a balance of ideas. I’m talking about bankers, artists, architects, techies, and venture capitalists just to mention a few. If we build our board from individuals who have different lenses on the world, who bring thought diversity, we will be able to approach our challenges from new perspectives.

I often remind organizations that board members made a commitment to the organization. Strength comes from honoring those commitments and listening for the interest and value each member has brought to the team. By listening to new members instead of telling them how we operate, I have found we are able to open our board up for change, to see the potential as well as new directions.

The Technique

I apply community-building techniques that re-examine the views and skills each member brings to the table. The method includes asking clarifying questions, active listening, and building understanding before approaching the challenges we face as board members. And, the technique has brought real impact. Through using it, one organization increased donations in one year by 400 percent. It all hinges on learning about each other, respecting our differing methods, and being open to new possibilities. Balancing the thought leaders on our board and allowing them to take ownership for their commitment to the organization builds real strength.

In the BLF session I will be leading on Building a Stronger Board, the participants will work in groups to explore this method. By asking clarifying questions and through active listening, the exercise helps uncover the value each member brings to the team. Commitment, diversity, perspective, and skills are explored in a more personal way that allows each member to get to know the other.

Part of strength also comes from solidifying commitment. Each board member may be able to contribute a range of skills. Each also has a number of commitments they balance. Understanding this ebb and flow can help increase the value your board members can bring to the organization. I have found it also helps in determining when a member should transition off. This type of personal examination can help members understand on their own when it’s time to move on.

How the board views and tells your organization’s story can also bring strength. What is it the board doesn’t know about me as a member? What value could I offer that has not been tapped into? The value and perspective each member has can enrich the way the organization’s message is relayed. As ambassadors for the organization, it’s important that we understand the organization’s story, but it’s equally important that as board member, I can own our part of it. Understanding how each member views the organization’s work will help us shape a stronger message.

The Method

The method I present is more about looking at board process and structure, not about solving problems like scarcity, need for funds, better leadership and how others should change. It focuses on replacing advice with curiosity and exploring an issue from all sides. It is in this search for deeper understanding that we are able to lift the cover on the root of our challenges. To learn what core issues are and how people outside the organization may see them. It leads to building a stronger board.

Are You Listening to Your Board Members?, September 25, 2014, Board Source, by Peter Zehren

Numerous recent studies and articles have pointed out the critical role of philanthropy in communities—not only in supporting the social sector, but also in creating a culture of civic engagement, caring, and trust. But how do you actually build a culture of philanthropy in a community?

I had been working in the nonprofit sector in New York for years when my husband suddenly received an incredible job opportunity in Las Vegas, Nevada. At the time, I knew nothing of the social sector in Vegas—after all, when you think about Las Vegas, the first thing that comes to mind usually isn’t philanthropy.

We moved, and I soon joined the Moonridge Group, a catalyst organization that connects nonprofits and philanthropy, and facilitates community-wide initiatives. Our work focuses on growing philanthropy, building capacity in nonprofits, and ensuring that we increase collaboration and minimize duplication, particularly in Las Vegas. So far our greatest challenges have been community engagement, and building a culture and a legacy of philanthropy.

Las Vegas is a fascinating example of a big little town. It’s a city that essentially exists because of tourism, yet it’s also a thriving city with 2.2 million residents. It was one of the hardest hit by the recession and real estate bubble—and although the economy has rebounded, there are deep wounds. Like many other cities across the United States, Vegas has deep social needs and a low density of nonprofits. It is highly transient and, due to it’s relative youth, does not have an ingrained culture of philanthropy.

Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about how you can build a culture of philanthropy, and we have refocused our organization as a result. Here’s what we know about what works:

1. Everything begins with engagement.

In communities where there isn't an established culture of board participation and volunteerism, it’s important to start by creating opportunities for fulfilling engagement. One specific thing we did was to create a better pipeline of volunteer leadership. We did this in a few ways. First, we launched a “board matchmaker” tool, which helps pair organizations that need board members with executives who are looking for a way to get involved and give back. We also wanted to make existing philanthropy more strategic and visible. We formed something called the Greater Good Council, which brings together individual and family foundations to engage in strategic, collective impact-like giving. Finally, we began guiding nonprofits toward creating structured volunteer opportunities for individuals and groups, knowing that once someone volunteers, they often develop a vested interest in supporting that organization into the future.

2. Although philanthropy should be strategic, it’s fundamentally personal.

Of course we all want philanthropists to engage in high-impact giving, but when you are starting off trying to build a culture and tradition of philanthropy, it’s most important to inspire people to give. We find that storytelling—sharing personal pathways to giving—works well. We implemented an annual Philanthropy Leaders Summit, where 150 community philanthropists engaged in conversations about how and why they give. We are also starting a video series featuring local leading philanthropists who share what inspires them.

3. You have to reach Millennials directly.

It’s also critical to reach out to and engage the next generation of philanthropists. We helped several nonprofits launch youth philanthropy groups, which focus on volunteering, personal experience, and professional development. We also involve youth in our Philanthropy Leaders Summit.

4. It’s important to help nonprofits better engage with the philanthropy community.

As the tide of philanthropy rises in a community, it’s important to ensure that nonprofits are equipped to accept and effectively steward contributions. We collaborate with other community organizations to create a spectrum of capacity-building services for nonprofits. We also work directly with organizations to develop clear communications with donors (for example, providing information such as “investment updates” to donors so that they can see how organizations are using their funds). We also launched a series of community roundtables to help nonprofits better understand the funding landscape—for example, this fall we will organize a summit with the Nevada Corporate Giving Council (which we helped form) and the Nonprofit CEO Advisory Council (convened by the United Way of Southern Nevada). There are always misconceptions on both sides in terms of funding needs and availability; this is just one step in the direction to better communications and collaboration.

Building a culture and tradition of philanthropy for an entire city is a massive undertaking, but it is vital. Like many communities across the country, Las Vegas has deep social needs, and it is up to all members of the community to help support their neighbors. It’s so inspiring to see a rising tide of national philanthropic efforts (such as the Billionaire’s Pledge)—but it all starts at home, in our communities.

Building a Culture of Philanthropy, September 19, 2014, Stanford Social Innovation Review, by Anna Pikovsky Auerbach

On the evening of September 30th Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden hosted a reception at their home for Jewish Community leadership. Lee Sherman and Shelley Rood were honored to be among the 100 guests and to represent the work of the AJFCA network. In his remarks, the Vice President spoke about his strong commitment to ensuring that Holocaust Survivors live their lives in dignity, and acknowledged the great work of Aviva Sufian, U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Survivor Services, and the supports being provided by our Jewish human services agencies. Click here to view photos.