Best Practices: Working With Board Advancement Committees

Allyson Goodwin (Northfield Mount Hermon School) spoke with us about best practices for working with Board advancement committees.

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Interview Transcript

Cynthia Woolbright: I want to thank you again for your willingness to talk with us about best practices for the board of trustees and the advancement committee that you have there at Northfield Mount Hermon.

Allyson Goodwin: It’s my pleasure.

Cynthia Woolbright: My first question, Allyson, is what is the primary role and responsibility of the advancement committee of the board?

Allyson Goodwin: The primary role of the advancement committee is to provide guidance and advice to the Chief Advancement Officer and to the Head of School. they are self-selected every year. They choose what committee they want to be on. Sometimes I help them with that self-selection by gently encouraging them to either continue or to join the committee. And it’s really the group of trusted advisors that tend to have the most fundraising experience. They oversee the whole advancement operation, which does not include communications at Northfield Mount Hermon. We have a communications advancement person who is the liaison with our communications office; but we are running the fundraising and the friendraising arm of the operation.

We have about 15 people on the Advancement Committee, but we also have, this year anyway, one non-trustee, who is a former trustee who we really wanted to keep involved, and she’s been fantastic.

Cynthia Woolbright: How do you keep this committee engaged in the development of the, you know, strategic goals and priorities…

Cynthia Woolbright: And how is that reported to the board?

Allyson Goodwin: The plan for the year and the development of goals are created by me with the assistance of my management team, and I consult with the Head of School and the Advancement Committee Chair. We start writing the plan for the following fiscal year in the April of the year before, and start figuring out what kinds of needs we’re going to have; what our strategic focus is going to be as a school; and what our goals will be to meet those needs.

The lan and the goals for the year are presented at the fall trustees meeting. That includes the annual fund goal, which, again, is set by us internally. The board is in a place where they really trust that we’re maximizing our potential, and that we are looking carefully at all the different criteria that goes into goal-making.

So, we will occasionally discuss it, or they’ll want to know a little bit about what went into it; but we’ve gotten to the point now, after eight years of working together, that this is a good formula

Obviously, as it relates to preparing the budget for the year, the financial policy committee is involved in the overall budget, the CFO plugs in an amount for the annual fund, and then we respond to that. Over the last few years we’ve actually exceeded the CFO’s goals by a significant amount, and our external goal is very different.

Progress reports and updates about the office activities are emailed twice a month to the advancement committee, and then very extensive reports are submitted to the board three times a year—30-page reports, with lots of charts and details and information about what we’re doing—so that anybody who’s outside of the advancement committee can look at the broad view And then when we get to the meetings, that’s when we really get down into the details.

And so, the advancement committee, is in touch with us either weekly or bi-weekly, and knows exactly what’s going on.

This new model, where it’s just the advancement committee has been fantastic.

Cynthia Woolbright: How do you continue to engage them, during your meeting time?

Allyson Goodwin: What we’ll do is pull something out at the meeting that’s not in the packet, that’s specific to an issue or a strategic focus like naming opportunities for an upcoming capital project; or discussing a capital project and how we might go about that; or reviewing the gift acceptance policy—those kinds of things.

You know, over the last couple of years, we’ve been in between campaigns. We’ve been discussing what a campaign might look like. We’ve been looking very carefully at research on our constituency. We spend quite a bit of time just explaining who we are, where we are, and what kind of climate we’re in, and bringing people up to date on that.

We tend to be at 100,000 feet when we have the meetings.

We talk about the merits of either a large campaign or smaller project-based campaigns. We talk about the larger issues either facing advancement as an industry; facing us particularly; and then how we’re going to apply those things as we move forward.

Cynthia Woolbright: Describe a little bit about your expectations of this advancement committee.

Allyson Goodwin: We expect the advancement committee to keep up with the news of the office. And they actually – they really do. They read those weekly or bi-weekly newsletters quite carefully. I get a lot of comments right away. That’s the beauty of email.

And they are occasionally asked to call fellow alumni or parents for a gift or for stewardship. We have asked them to accompany us on meetings

They are, of course, all expected to give to the annual fund, and they do; and then they’re asked to become a member of our planned giving society, and almost all of them are. They will also often host events, or they’ll speak at events, or they’ll introduce the Head of School. They’re really stewards and champions of the advancement efforts.

We don’t currently have a job description for them, but I will be developing that as we bring on more non-board members going into a campaign, so that it’s very clear what the expectations are.

And, because we’re staff-driven, they’re very eager to jump in when we ask them for things, but They’re not micro-managers. They’re really much more strategic, which is fantastic, and a great gift

Allyson Goodwin: And they’re all incredibly busy. So, we want to maximize the time as much as we can, and, you know, really honor the time that they’re giving to us.

Cynthia Woolbright: Have you seen,a change or transition in the role of advancement committees in the last decade or so?

Allyson Goodwin: You know, that’s a great question. I think, because our boards are changing in their demographics themselves, in terms of age, and folks who can consider a board appointment, end to be either working longer, or have less time, or, just are also used to a business where things are run very efficiently, they also tend to be folks who are, at least in my experience, much more willing to respond to a request for something, as opposed to making demands about what needs to happen.

So, they’re very invested. If I call on them to, go on a solicitation or a stewardship call with me, they are happy to do it if we can make it work with everybody’s schedules.

Cynthia Woolbright: Share with us some of the lessons you’ve learned on best practices for the development committee, and how our colleagues can be effective and strategic in engaging board members.

Allyson Goodwin: The other thing I’ve found is that some members of a board, have great intentions, but they actually really don’t like to raise money. They don’t like to initiate that call. And that’s okay, as long as we’re both clear about what it is they want to do to help the Advancement efforts.

And I’ll say, “That’s okay, because here are the other things you do bring to the advancement committee. You bring great wisdom and perspective. I’m not going to ask you to go on a call with me, but I might ask your advice about how to either approach a foundation or, you know, approach a particular person that you have a relationship with.”

I also think that the most important thing for me to always remember is that board members are going to be donors a lot longer than they’re going to be board members; we should treat them as donors first, and get them excited about how their connection to the school, is part of a long-time continuum, and engage them in what’s happening, strategically with the school

But as a member of the advancement committee, they’re really getting into the nitty-gritty of what makes it—this organization; the fundraising—tick. And that tends to really help them when they’re thinking about their philanthropic hopes and dreams, and how they can help the school with its needs, it’s very authentic, and it’s very genuine. That elbow-to-elbow working together, and also remembering that they’re donors first, is – has been, one of the best things that’s helped in the relationship with our advancement committee.

And then I also think it’s really important to pay attention to the culture of your board at your institution. You know, it takes a really long time to change it, if that’s even possible. You have to work creatively within the culture to reach goals, if we’re creative with our board, and they know that we’re being that way, they appreciate that, because they know that the change is happening, and they want to be part of it.

At NMH the board doesn’t solicit each other. They feel very strongly about their donor history being extremely private. the solicitation actually happens mostly with me, and occasionally the Head; but often not, because the Heads in our case haven’t wanted to solicit their bosses, as it were. But it works really well, and I know that these people are making their best gifts I have relationships with them that are confidential and, continuous. We have a conversation about what they’re going to be doing that year, or the year coming up.

Cynthia Woolbright: They’re clear on what they want and don’t want.

Allyson Goodwin: They’re very clear. Our Board Chair feels extremely strongly about this. He does not want anybody on the board knowing what he gives. He doesn’t want to know what they’re doing. He wants to know what the aggregate is. He wants to know that everyone is giving, and that everyone is giving their best.

And I think that he would rather have conversations about strategic areas of focus, and just expect that I’m taking care of those details with them. So, that’s the way it’s been working here, and that’s been different from my past experience but great.

And again, it’s something that has been a part of the culture, and particularly of the Board Chair. You’ve got to follow that lead,

Cynthia Woolbright: Okay. Thank you, Allyson. I appreciate it enormously.

Allyson Goodwin: Okay. You’re welcome.


Allyson Goodwin ’83, P ’12, ’14

Allyson Goodwin

Chief Advancement Officer
Northfield Mount Hermon School

Allyson Goodwin graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon (NMH) and then Colby College with a degree in American Studies and creative writing. She began her career in alumni and parent relations and then worked in annual giving at NMH for five years while also serving as a dorm parent and a class advisor. After NMH, Allyson directed the Annual Fund at Colby-Sawyer College and from there directed a new regional campaign program at Colby College, raising capital and annual funds for their biggest historical campaign. After Colby, she was the Director of Development for the Montshire Museum and ran two campaigns. In 2006, Allyson returned to Northfield Mount Hermon as the Chief Advancement Officer and completed the most successful and largest campaign in the school’s history in 2010. She also teaches and is involved with several outreach organizations. Allyson has served as a trustee at Bement School, was on the Board and then President of the Upper Valley Planned Giving Council, served on a CASE conference committee, and has spoken at a number of CASE and CASE/NAIS conferences over the years.

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