Radical Ideas to Change How Nonprofit Boards Operate—And Supercharge Fundraising

To supercharge fundraising and help charities reach their full potential, consultant Jimmy LaRose urges wealthy donors to demand controversial changes in how nonprofit boards work.

It’s easy to imagine howls of protest from fundraising experts as I read Jimmy’s assertion that all board members should not be involved in fundraising in his new book, Re-Imagining Philanthropy. (I could write another whole story on that.)

In another radical assertionJimmy argues that wealthy donors on charity boards should empower chief executives of those organizations by making them board presidents.   

“Re-write the bylaws, making the CEO chairman of the board,” he writes. “This is the way it’s already working anyway,” he writes, adding, “Don’t kid yourself; successful nonprofits… are already being run by the CEO! We’ve deceived ourselves into believing that having a volunteer in this position ensures a kind of objectivity and fiduciary wellbeing for the nonprofit.” 

But in reality—or in the world according to Jimmy—“the vast majority of volunteer board members do not have the time, experience, or skills” to manage the chief executive. “Inevitably,” he writes, “instead of the members managing the CEO, the CEO is tasked with the annoying responsibility of managing the board. It’s a complete waste of time.” 

As board president, the CEO could build a cohesive team by choosing trustees who can make the organization most effective, Jimmy writes. After all, that’s how it worked for companies like Apple where Steve Jobs and his cofounders created the enterprise and then handpicked directors and officers who built the company into a global giant, he writes. “The greatest contribution we can make to the nonprofit sector is to do whatever it takes to attract, pay, and empower great CEOs.”

Another big change Jimmy recommends for nonprofits: paying board members.

“Don’t run out of the room with your hair on fire at the suggestion of compensation,” he writes. “By the way, you will never have a member miss a meeting ever again!”

In an interview with Inside Philanthropy, Jimmy elaborated on how much board members should be paid. “I am thinking $1,000 for each of four board meetings per member, plus expenses,” he said. “It changes everything.”

In a revelation likely to stir criticism, Jimmy said he got the idea of paying trustees after he decided to charge a nonprofit with a $12 million budget after being asked to join its board.  “Some might say this is unethical, it is not,” he insisted.

“I billed them my monthly retainer, plus travel expenses,” he told Inside Philanthropy. “I realized after four years of service and never missing a meeting [that] my success was connected to being a professional board member. My impact was tremendous. I wondered why this is not being replicated.”

What do you think of Jimmy’s ideas: Would they reenergize your nonprofit board?

[Editor's noteThis is our third post on Jimmy LaRose and his ideas. Check out the first post and second posts.]