Q: Our organization is based in Florida, but only a few of our board directors call the state home. Others reside throughout the country and some even live overseas. This gives us a valuable perspective on our mission, but I’m wondering if this is preventing us from getting local or state funding. Do you have any insights to share?
A: This is a question with probably as many answers as there are funders. There is nothing explicitly good, bad, right, or wrong about having board directors from out of the area. It can be very enriching, especially depending on your mission. But, as I’m sure you’ve already ascertained, some funderswill use your geographically diverse board as an excuse to immediately eliminate your organization from consideration, while others will jump at the chance to fund you because of that diversity. Most funders will fall somewhere in between; and, they may have to be “convinced” that your organization, with its atypical governance structure, is a worthy recipient of their funds.
The likelihood of receiving funding from local and state sources depends on so many factors. These include the funders’ own goals, their belief in your mission, their policies, whether they or their founders are located in more than one community (think “snow birds”), etc. This is true even for government funders. The key is to do the research you would do with any other donor/funder in order to discover what that funder is hoping to get out of its philanthropic efforts and then tap into that.
Receptivity to a non-local board is something that has to be discussed individually with each potential funder. I would be very upfront about the fact that you have board directors from elsewhere. Make an appointment to discuss in person why you do, the benefits of that, and, most importantly, the benefits of that to the funder. For example, many cities have a “sister city.” Your having a board director from the affiliated city – particularly if he/she is a well-connected one – could be very attractive to a city looking to leverage its grants. Or, some states will be committed to promoting certain activities where your increased reach could help them meet their goals. For instance, if your organization runs a large film festival that attracts the biggest names in film from around the world and your state is committed to attracting the film industry, you could craft a strong argument that your international board opens additional opportunities for the state. Hopefully, if you do your homework, you will be able to win over even those funders that have traditionally limited their giving to what they believe are totally local organizations.