A Foolproof Way to Get Board Members to Open Their Rolodex (Free Template)

by Joan Garry

Why is it so darned hard to get board members to share their contacts? Download: My Foolproof Board Contacts Template

“Can you look through your contacts and identify folks you will talk to about our organization? We need names.”

In a heartbeat, every one of your board members becomes a monk. Friendless loners who live under rocks.

That’s not entirely fair. Some board members have like two friends.

Why does this happen? Type-A, successful people, interested in the wellbeing of others and willing to serve can’t identify 5 or 10 people who would be willing to have a conversation about people doing something good? What an amazing opportunity to avoid cable news!

Guess what? Your board members do not live under rocks. You CAN get them to share their contacts.

Today, I offer you a new approach to this paralyzing question and a downloadable template I use with clients that actually works.

==> Download my foolproof board contacts template here.


Nonprofit board members should see themselves as ambassadors. Vocal and visible champions for your organization.

To me, this may be the most important role of a board member.

It’s a board member’s job to spread the “good news” – that there is an amazing organization filled with dedicated people working to make our society more civil, equitable, generous. A board member’s role is to invite folks to learn more about this work. To invite them to be of a part of passionate, generous group working to repair the world in ways large and small.

That’s the big part of the education process for a board member. Then comes what feels like the harder part.

Whom do they spread the good news to?

Why is this question so difficult?


“Can you provide us with some names of folks from your contacts?”

You’re wondering – what’s wrong with that question, Joan? You just said that board members are in the invitation business.

There are three problems.

  • The question is paralyzing. If I am asked for names of people without any context, I’ll select my go-to folks. That small circle of people whose names immediately come to mind. And that can happen every single time I am asked that question. So I either keep coming up with the same names or the second time I’m asked, I’ll say I gave you names already. Thus, I become a board member with three friends who live under that rock with me.
  • The question we ask is not the question board members hear. Board members are used to being the smartest people in the room. That’s usually a good thing, but not in this case. When you ask for names of folks who might be interested in learning more about the organization, here’s what these really smart people hear: Do you know people you can ask for money? Do you know any rich people who can give us a lot of money? Will you ask all those rich people you know for lots of money?
  • Board and staff leaders actually ask those questions. Hungry to do more for clients and the community they serve, hungry to avoid layoffs, hungry to ensure the organization is built to last, they actually do ask board members if they know rich people they can ask for money. Sometimes it will be softer. An E.D. might ask, “Do you know any rich people that you would be willing to introduce me to so that I can ask them for money?”


You need a new approach. It has two components.

  • Re-educate. Sadly, far too often we make board members feel like human ATMs. Deliver me money or you are not an effective board member. Give money, go get money. No wonder they won’t share their contacts! We need to talk about this differently. Organizations need armies of folks – the more people who know about what you do – the more visibility – the more talent that will come your way, the more board prospects will come your way, the more volunteers will raise their hands. And the more people who are invited to your “party,” the more likely that financial resources will come your way too.
  • Ask different questions. Think about the difference between these two questions: a) Can you think of someone we can invite to the house party? Or b) Who was at your Thanksgiving dinner / Passover Seder this year? The first one is void of any context at all. The second one helps me to take my list of contacts out of alphabetical order and into context. THAT is how you get folks to help you build an army.


This downloadable template is foolproof. I have used it with dozens of boards. And it never (I really mean never) fails. When the exercise is complete, I ask board members: How many of you just wrote down five names of folks you had not considered before – folks you know who might have real interest in the work of this org?

Every single hand goes up.

When I up the ante to 10 names, I get at least ½ the group.

The template is based on a simple premise. I don’t think of my sphere of influence in alphabetical order. I think about people in terms of how I know them.

You’ll find instructions at the top of the template. Please give it a try and I like doing it as a group. Give it sufficient time.

I really want you to build an army. Your organization needs it, your clients demand it, and our world is desperate for it.

Go forth and let me know if it helps.

==> Download my foolproof board contacts template here.