An Engaged and Effective Board with Christal M Cherry

Monday January 31, 2022 comments

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Welcome to another episode of The Nonprofit Ace Podcast. I'm your host, Chyla Graham. Today, I am talking with Christal M. Cherry of The Board Pro. 

Chyla Graham

Hey, Christal.

Christal M. Cherry:

Hey, how are you?

Chyla Graham:

I am good. What are you celebrating today? What's good that's happening that you're like, "I want to tell somebody about this."

Christal M. Cherry:

Well, first, thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here. Today, I am celebrating two years of being an entrepreneur and working with nonprofits to help their boards be more effective and to learn how to govern and lead and steward and cultivate and all those fundraising and proper words for nonprofit work. And it has been an amazing journey. I'm very, very excited.

Chyla Graham:

Oh, well, congratulations. I'm excited for you. I feel like every year, like what? I did it, I did it again. So yes. Congratulations to you.

Christal M. Cherry:

Thank you.

Chyla Graham:

And you did tell us a little bit it about your work. So tell me how can people connect with you? Where should they find you? Should they go to your website? Should they find you on social media?

Christal M. Cherry:

Yeah, you can find me in multiple ways. You can go to my website, or you can find me on LinkedIn, just at Christal M. Cherry and either way you'll find me. And yeah, if you want to learn more about the work that I do and the services that I offer, it's probably best to go to my website, but if you hit me up on LinkedIn, more than likely I will respond and we can connect that way. So yeah, I'm pretty easy to find.

Chyla Graham:

Yeah. So LinkedIn is my preferred platform so I totally get it. So thanks for being on the podcast. I wanted to ask... I've got a few standard questions that I want to get out the way before we dig into what you want people to know more about. You did mention in your intro that you work with boards on governance and trainings. Tell me why. What happened and what made you say, "This is the thing that I want to get into."

Christal M. Cherry:

So I am a trained 23-year nonprofit fundraiser and have worked for multiple nonprofits. Worked the first 10 years or so in higher education, then moved into the faith-based space and worked for a couple of seminaries, worked with pastors and bishops and elders in fundraising.

And then I moved into human services. And after all of that, I just decided I wanted to do something else. I wanted to use all that I had learned as a non-profit fundraiser and continue to work in the sector. And I kept thinking, "How can I make a difference? How can I have impact? What can I contribute?"

I just started thinking about all of those board meetings that I sat in as a staff person. You know how you sit on the side and the board is sitting at the table watching and observing.

And in some cases, some of the boards just seem so apathetic. So like, "I wish I wasn't here. This is so not interesting to me. I don't even really know what's going on. I'm doing my grocery list right now."

And I'm sitting on the side watching going, "Oh my God, we are doing such a horrible job of making this an exciting experience for them." Or we weren't prepared. We weren't on time. And so I just kept thinking there is so much more that we can do as non-profit leaders to help prepare our board to do the work and to keep them engaged and keep them excited. So when I decided I was going to step out on my own, I thought this is the space I'm going to play in. This is where I'm going to come in and learn all I can about board work, take my lived experiences with that and I'm going to get out here and hang out my shingle.

And I did that the year before the pandemic hit, not knowing what to expect. First, it was kind of moving a little slow. We were hanging on by a nail then. And then all of the social unrest started happening and nonprofits started looking inward and realizing there were some things that they needed to do, starting with leadership, to make. And my phone started ringing and I've been pretty busy ever since. In retrospect, it was a good decision and I'm very happy that I made it.

Chyla Graham:

Well. Yay. Thank you. Because I definitely know that the glassy eye... I call it the glassy eye. They're just like, "So here." I've definitely been in board meetings where people I'm like, "Please don't fall asleep, please don't fall asleep."

So as you've started to do your work, what has been one of the things that you wish more organizations were prioritizing when it comes to their board and board governance?

Christal M. Cherry:

Well, first I think I wish that they just realize that board members should be cultivated and treated like donors. We go out of our way to make sure that we are building relationships with our donors, that we're getting to know them, that we're learning about them, that we're trying to find out what excites them, what keeps them engaged with our work and with our mission and then trying to find those priorities that align with them that will hopefully get them to make a gift, a donation and volunteer and all those good things.

It's the same with board members. We need to get to know them. We need to know their birthdays. We need to know the anniversaries and what's going on in their lives with their kids and their wives. And so that we can celebrate that with them.

We need to understand their cultural differences, right? Understand what traditions that they celebrate, what holidays are important to them. And when we start really investing in getting to know our board members, they will feel the love from us. They will feel like we're really interested in them and they will stay. They're already passionate about the mission.

I think the relationship piece is what's missing. And the board chair, the governance chair, all of those leaders on boards need to do a better job of reaching out to our board members and getting to know them, engaging with them and keeping them excited about the work.

Chyla Graham:

No, I'd definitely never thought about how deep could you go to get to know your board better? And so I think that's a really good idea.

Christal M. Cherry:

Yeah. I mean, when I was the fundraiser, I would try to learn as much as I could about the boards that I worked with so that I could send them a happy birthday card, a happy anniversary or welcome to your new grandbaby, or congratulations on your daughter getting married or whatever, just to build relationships with them so that when I did call them for something, or I did send an email, that they would respond or that they would call me back because I'm building relationships with them. Right.

So in the end, I'm going to get what I want if I continue to show genuine interest in who they are.

Chyla Graham:

I think that's part of the key is that genuine interest and remembering that it's about the relationships. I know it can be like, "Oh, we just need to ask."

You don't ask strangers for money. It's so hard, I should say. Not that you don't. It's so hard to ask people for money. So wouldn't it be easier if you just got to know the people already in the circle and build there. So are there any resources that you found to be helpful in either tracking some of that information or keeping it all straight? Because I'm like, "Ooh, how do you manage all of that information?"

Christal M. Cherry:

Well, just like we do with our donors, we need to create a board stewardship plan so that we are knowing how many times we're touching our donors with opportunities for them to get involved and to stay abreast of what's happening with the organization. So every month there should be some kind of touch, whether it be a newsletter or a social media post, or a phone call or an opportunity for them to come and do a day of giving with your organization.

And then also, as a fundraiser, I would give them opportunities to engage with me on a weekly basis. And so I had a to-do list that I had to complete every week. And rather than me trying to, as one person, trying to do 50,000 things, I would call my board and ask for help. I would ask them to call a donor for me to thank them for a big gift or to look over a grant before I submitted it.

Or if I was going on a visit with a big donor, I might ask one of my board members to go with me on that particular day. And so every week I had a menu of ways that boards can stay interested and involved and engaged in our work in between board meetings so that they didn't feel like, "Well, we are not going to meet up with the board again until next April. What am I to do until then?"

So I would always say, "Don't ask that question. I have plenty for you to do." But it worked. And it was wonderful because you might be busy one week and you can't do anything, but the next week you might have a slow week and you can make a phone call or you can sign a letter.

And so every week they were given an opportunity to do something and it really worked. So I just think we have to be more intentional about keeping our boards involved and engaged and you know what, this should be a fun and rewarding experience for them. People will pay attention and put some time and energy and love into things that they enjoy doing. And so if they like serving on your board, they will continue to reach out to you even if you don't reach out to them.

Chyla Graham:

No, I do like that. A cultivation plan and making it like, how do you get some things off your to-do list?

It's not "menial work" or something trivial. You're like, "This is something I need to get done. Can you help me with this? This matters."

Christal M. Cherry:

And you'd be surprised how many board members are excited that they can look over a grant. Those who are detail-oriented, they want to look over the grant to make sure all the I's are dotted and t's are crossed, or they would be excited to call a donor and say, "I'm a board member and thank you so much for your donation and for your loyalty to our organization." You'd be surprised how many board members respond to those kinds of tasks and would love to do those things.

Chyla Graham:

So having done interviews myself and realizing sometimes people ask questions that I'm just like, "That is totally not what I want to talk about." I want to know what is a question that you wish more people asked you?

Christal M. Cherry:

You mean related to board service?

Chyla Graham:

Anything you want to tell us.

Christal M. Cherry:

Oh, oh, let's see. Many people may not know that I adopted a baby years ago. I have a son who's now 12. It was a wonderful and terrifying experience all at the same time because I was trepidated about being a new mom, but I wish that more people asked me about my adoption experience and how they might adopt.

I mean, a lot of people are wanting to be parents and for whatever reason, it's not happening in a traditional way. And there are opportunities for them to do that. And so I wish more people asked me about that and I would love to share that. In fact, I just wrote a children's book about being different and it's really a book about children accepting one another and creating environments where children feel like they belong and not intimidating each other or teasing one another for being different.

And I'm very excited about it. The book is called Mac and Cheez: Being Different is Okay. And my son, who is named Malcolm, his nickname is Mac. He's out on the playground playing with children. He's the only African American and Latino child on the playground. Everyone else is white and he's trying to engage with them and play with them and they're not really being warm and welcoming and he's feeling some kind of way about it.

So he starts to walk home and on his way home, he meets a little boy named Cheez who is also African American, but also different. He's very dark. He has blue eyes and kinky hair and he and Malcolm become friends and he teaches Mac that being different is okay. And that you can be the change that you want and that you can go back and invite other people to play with you.

And so that's kind of what happens in this book. And so the two of them begin to play together and then all the other children want to play with them. And it's just really a cute little poem for children ages three to eight and to really talk to them about being different and that we're all unique and that we all matter.

And I think in this time when we are talking so much about diversity, equity and inclusion as adults, we forget that children are listening and watching and that we mean it when we say we all belong and we all matter. And that's really the point of the book.

Chyla Graham:

Well, cool. Be sure to send me over the link to that so we can include that in the show notes for today. Any other resources you want to share with anyone? Otherwise, we'll put your book and your website in the show notes.

Christal M. Cherry:

Yeah. Yeah. You can pick up a copy of my book on Amazon and you I think it's also downloadable on Kindle so you can buy it as a hard copy or you can buy it as a e-book. The hard copy is $12.99. The e-book is $5.99 and it's a great book for you to read to your little ones and start talking to them about children in their classrooms or daycare that might look a little different than they do.

Chyla Graham:

Well, thank you so much, Christal.

Thanks for listening to another episode of The Nonprofit Ace Podcast. Be sure to follow The Nonprofit Ace Podcast on your favorite podcast player so you never missed an episode. If you want to continue the conversation, follow me on Instagram. I'm @CNRGadvisory. I want to hear from you so be sure to send me a DM if you have any questions that you want to get answered and leave me a review on your favorite podcast player, be that Castbox, Google Play, Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Thanks for listening.



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Christal M. Cherry Links



Mac and Cheez: Being Different is Okay