Cultivate business as a board member

By Bryce Sanders | November 19, 2012 | Last updated on September 21, 2023
3 min read

You’ve just been asked to serve on the board of a prestigious non-profit organization. It might be the museum, symphony or zoo.

Or maybe your organization is less prestigious, but still takes itself seriously. At your first meeting, the chair said: “You cannot solicit business. You are here to serve.”

Read: Boards must balance independence with competence

But over time, you discover board members do business with each other regularly. If they can’t solicit each other, how did this happen? Are you missing something?

Here are a few pointers on discreetly soliciting business without contravening the rules.

Timing is everything

Arrive at meetings early. Stay afterwards. Talk to fellow board members. Sit in a different seat at each meeting to interact with others.

Objective: Get noticed by the other members.

Read: Assessing the board

Meet them for lunch

Gradually invite each board member out for lunch or drinks. Ask when they joined the board. What are the major issues facing the organization? Learn about their background and their subcommittee assignments. Tell your story. Ask, “In your opinion how do you see me as best being able to help the organization?”

Objective: Get to know each person. Tell your story.

Read: An advisory board can be key to building a better practice

Look before you leap

Gradually learn the politics of the group: who supports whom; the vocal members; and the quiet ones. Armed with information learned in your earlier “interviews” you know what issues are important to different members. Knowing spouses figures into the equation too.

Objective: Understand the objectives of the group, learn who the key players are, and find out how things get done.

Read: Put investments pros on corporate boards: AIMR

Resist the urge to run the place

You are probably an outgoing, Type A personality. You have lots of financial experience. Don’t reach for a leadership role if it hasn’t been offered – it can have disastrous consequences. Your fellow board members may not know the best way to get something done, but they are really good at shutting down someone they don’t like.

Objective: Don’t reinforce the pushy broker stereotype.

Read: What your clients are saying behind your back

Reconnect with your mentor

It’s likely you were invited onto the board because you had a longstanding member lobbying on your behalf. Meet with that person over lunch. You understand and respect the rules against soliciting business. Ask if they do business with other board members? How did it come about?

Did someone approach your mentor or did she initiate the connection? You would like to raise your visibility. Could your mentor draw you a road map? She understands what you’re asking. Although it’s against the rules to solicit business personally, it’s probably not against the rules for one member to approach another with a need and suggest they talk with a third board member. A discreet introduction might follow.

Objective: Ask for guidance and discrete introductions.

Read: How to be a good mentor

Raise your visibility

Charities often hold golf outings and galas. These need sponsors. Your mentor might suggest you and your firm support the event to gain name recognition within the board and across the wider organization. This may involve being thanked publicly and appearing in newspaper photos.

Objective: Let people see your name in the context of supporting the organization.

Read: Take events from average to awesome

Make a difference

Most organizations share three common functions: raising membership, event planning and fundraising. One is usually in crisis. Solving each of the functions lends itself to high visibility. So become involved. Altruism drives many board members at non-profits. If they see you giving your time, they may thank you by sending business your way.

Objective: Establish yourself as a reliable person who gets things done.

Read: Advisor focuses on charity

Bryce Sanders

Bryce Sanders is President of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, PA. His book “Captivating the Wealthy Investor” is available on