Boards: The Old Name Drop Game

It’s time for the board to come up with names of people with whom the nonprofit should make contact — for a request, for inside information about a community program, for any good purpose that benefits the growth and thriving of the organization. “Well, let’s go around the table and share some of the people you know so we can reach out,” the development director might suggest.

The request is met with silence. People look down at their yellow pads or cell phones. It appears nobody knows anybody. Have your board members been living in a cave? Why aren’t they coming up with contacts?

There are several possible reasons why people don’t speak up in these settings, according to Cathleen Kiritz, president & CEO of the Grantsmanship Center in Los Angeles, Calif. They might be embarrassed to admit that they know someone. They might be reluctant because the high-value contact has told you “enough, already!” They might offer a name of someone they don’t really know that well, then when they’re asked for an introduction, they have to admit our over-promising. 

Here’s a game to play with boards and other insiders. Ask everyone to take a small piece of paper. On that paper, ask: “write the name of someone you know who is influential or important or rich or famous. Then write your name below. Fold the paper and put it in the bowl on the table.”

You’ve just invited a board member to make a semi-anonymous identification of someone who might be able to help the organization. No one else knows what names are on which slips of paper. You, as the group leader, pull the names and find the ones you think might be most helpful, according to Kiritz.

Then, later, you approach the person who “dropped” the name to ask if they are would be willing to reach out. If they say yes, great, the connection is made quietly. If they say no, fine, no one’s on the hook, no one’s exposed, no one’s embarrassed.

Experiences with this semi-anonymous naming exercise have yielded U.S. Senators, mayors, wives of governors, celebrity chefs and others — all from board members who sat silent at a meeting. No guarantees that connections equal funding, but these links are certainly a step in the right direction. 

Next time you don’t get any names or connections from your board, consider serving up some name dropping. © Copyright 2021 The Grantsmanship Center