How Can I Get Wealthy People on my Board? Help!

June 11, 2015

Dear Rich,

I’m blessed to have a board of directors who are all committed to the mission and who all work hard to support fund raising events. What we don’t have is anyone with money who can make significant donations or connect us to other wealthy people and foundations. We’re pretty down home here – how can we attract the country club folks? Help!

Dear Friends,

As a good lawyer would say, “It depends.” It depends on the type of organization you are running. The larger and more institutional and prestigious an organization is, the more likely it is to have a board of directors made up of the country club set. This is not true in all situations, but generally people who are wealthy like to be associated with the major arts and cultural institutions, universities, hospitals, foundations, and large human service organizations.

What I look for when working with grassroots, community based, and moderate sized organizations trying to build their board is people with access to wealth that will lead you to people with wealth. As an example, one of my students is the senior minister of a church that has 12 ministers on staff and around 7,500 members in his congregation. Many of these church members own businesses, work as CEOs, or are wealthy retired people. Getting these people involved provides me with access to a significant audience. Recruiting a president or a leader of a Rotary or Lions Club provides me with access to some of the business leaders. Joining a chamber of commerce and chairing one of their committees gives me access to a lot of people who can be helpful in real and significant ways.

If you do recruit a wealthy person, make sure you do a good job of orienting them to the culture and personality of your board. Be careful what you wish for and realize that you may not want a super-wealthy person actually on your board – just passionate about your organization and willing to make significant donations to your cause. If your board is made of up of regular “down home” people used to rolling up their sleeves, you may make them uncomfortable and less effective in their governance role by suddenly bringing in “star power.” People with access to wealth are much more likely to join smaller and less prestigious organizations, and they’ll generally fit in well with your current board culture, while also leading you to wealth by introducing you to their affluent connections.

Good luck!

Rich

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