How Boards Kill Great Ideas

The following is an excerpt from Jerold Panas's book, The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards.

With some organizations, if you want to kill an idea get the board to discuss it. They don’t know what they want – and won’t be happy until they get it.

I've been a consultant to philanthropy for 40 years. In that time, I’ve attended hundreds and hundreds of board meetings — perhaps a thousand (surely a sufficient number to earn me a place in heaven on the right hand of the saints and martyrs!).

Time and time again, I’ve heard the same seven deadly statements that can kill an idea…

"We’ve never done it that way before."

A board that protects its time-vested interests and its precious heritage blocks the route to change.  It is strangled by the status quo.

Take a chance. Seize the opportunity. Some decisions require audacious action. It is impossible to be both consistently bold and infallible.

"It can’t be done."

In these times of explosive change and extraordinary complexity, to say impossible always puts you on the losing side. An organization harboring the attitude, “it can’t be done,” has signed-off on a self-fulfilling promise of failure.

If you believe it can be done— it can. This must be the hymn you sing.       

"It’ll cost too much."

Not having funds is a temporary problem … surrounded by creative solutions. To say you have insufficient funds for objectives of consequence bespeaks lowly aspirations.

You hold in trust the mission of your organization and the responsibility for its funding. That is a commitment to be faithfully sustained with unrelenting resolve and intrepid dedication.

Resources must not determine decisions. Your decisions determine resources.

"We’ve been doing all right without it."

It was Will Rogers who said: “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.”

Those satisfied with today’s progress and pace will eventually fall behind. They're in serious trouble and already more difficult to move than a church graveyard.

"We’ve tried it that way, and it didn’t work."

As a trustee, always consider “what might be” rather than “what is” or what happened in the past. Even the thorniest problem can be an inspiring opportunity when pursued with a belief in the possible. Or as Clement Stone, the father of positive thinking, colorfully put it: “You’ve got a problem. Great!” 

"We’re not ready now."

If not now — when?

TNT must be your creed — Today Not Tomorrow. Move forward and make your decision with a symphony of hard work, persistence, and unwavering commitment. 

"Let’s put it off for now and discuss it later."

Indecision is contagious. It casts an unhealthy pall over each member of the board.

Ross Perot contends that too often an organization says:  “ready, aim, aim, aim, aim.” Perot recommends instead the concept: “Ready, fire, aim.”

The theory is valid.  Most often, it is far better to take action even though all the factors may be unknown, than to take no action at all.

The other day, while waiting in the doctor’s office, I came across an article in an old issue of National Geographic.

You’ll laugh when I tell you the subject – barnacles. But one fascinating paragraph stayed with me.

“The barnacle,” this article said, “is confronted early on with a decision about where it is going to live. Once it decides that, it spends the rest of its life with its head permanently cemented to a rock.”

For some boards, it does come to that!

Thankfully you know better.

About the Author

The late Jerold Panas was among a small handful of the grandmasters of American fundraisers. He was considered one of the top writers in the field and a number of his books have achieved classic status. Hailed by Newsweek as "the Robert Schuller of fundraising," Jerry was a favorite speaker at conferences and workshops throughout the nation. He served as executive director of one of the premier firms in America and was the co-founder of the Institute for Charitable Giving. The very term "philanthropy" would mean less without Jerry's influence.