Are you pleased with your board’s participation in fundraising? Do you wish you could find some way to inspire your board members to advocate more and raise funds for your organization? You aren’t alone! Many nonprofits search for ways to help board members become excited about and successful at fulfilling this critical responsibility.
I’ve heard it said that a good fundraising board is like a unicorn—everyone knows what it looks like but no one has ever seen one. Actually there are many boards that do an admirable job of fundraising. So, let’s learn from their success—what does it take to create a high- functioning fundraising board?
Have you ever heard board members say, “I’m not good at fundraising,” or “I don’t know anyone with money,” or “I don’t want to ask my friends for money?” We can overcome this! It’s human nature to fear the dreaded term “fundraising.” Language is powerful so let’s start by choosing more appropriate words when we talk about fundraising behaviors with board members.
Let’s think of board members as our most effective ambassadors for our nonprofit. Their important job is to “wave the flag” of their organization at every opportunity. When they talk about why they are passionate about the nonprofit’s work, potential donors will catch their enthusiasm for the mission and be eager to participate on some level. So, the secret is not about asking for money; the key is sharing the vision with others.
Most board members truly want to do their part, even with fundraising. They just need a little guidance and encouragement. Boards that are successful at fundraising have one thing in common: each board member has a plan and they proactively work their plan. This type of approach typically includes four key components: Choose with Intention, Train with Gusto, Develop an Individual Plan, and Monitor/Encourage/Celebrate. Let’s take a look at each one.
Choose Board Members with Intention.
It all starts with the Nominating Committee. A clear demographic plan for board membership makes it easier to find just the right people to contribute their expertise and passion. At least half of the board members should have the capacity to give themselves at a high level or have connections with those who can give–and be willing to use those connections. Other board members can be chosen for a specific expertise, perspective, or experience they contribute to achieving the mission.
The Nominating Committees will choose board members with high integrity. Integrity is the thread that binds the organization together. Board members must be passionate about and completely committed to the mission. Donors give because they want to change lives and dedicated board members inspire donors.
At your next board meeting, ask board members to list ways your organization makes a difference—why people should give. This exercise will remind them of why they are serving and make it easier to discuss the case statement with others.
The Nominating Committee will choose people who are willing to engage in fundraising because they understand it is critical to fulfilling their fiduciary duty. Be clear from the beginning that board members will be expected to give financially according to their ability and to actively engage in inspiring others to give. Be sure to assure them they will be trained and be part of a team.
Increased scrutiny and regulation of the nonprofit sector means our board members will be called to a higher level of commitment than ever before. Recruiting board members with the line, “Oh, it won’t take much of your time—just attend a monthly meeting and a committee meeting if you can,” won’t be good enough anymore. We are all being called to a higher performance level.
Train Board Members with Gusto.
Create an atmosphere of fundraising excellence. Nonprofit management experts, Frances Hesselbein and Peter Drucker, said “No status quo allowed!” and “Keep raising the bar of excellence.” People will respond and be proud to belong to a board with high standards. Like most people, board members tend to prefer to be comfortable—but encourage them to step outside their comfort zone so they can focus on their responsibilities to your organization even though their days are jam packed.
Help board members understand fundraising is a critical fiduciary responsibility. Since a board’s job is to govern, not manage, its focus needs to be on increasing revenue rather than cutting expenses. Remind board members: No Money, No Mission. Their highest fiduciary responsibility is to ensure that the organization is adequately funded to meet its mission. The loud message to board members is, “Let’s get serious about fundraising and don’t worry because we will make it fun!”
Develop a Plan for Each Board Member.
Board members will feel more comfortable in their role as fundraisers if you help them develop a personalized plan for the year. They will be pleasantly surprised how easy and enjoyable fundraising can be!
Truth is—a lot of activities can be included in the behavior we call “fundraising.” Think of ways you can involve board members in some or all of these basic steps.
- Identifying prospective donors
- Educating and cultivating donors
- Inviting support from donors
- Recognizing all donor contributions
- Deepening donor commitment by engaging donors in the mission
The most effective board members work with staff to develop a personalized fundraising agreement. To do this, a staff member works individually with each board member to adapt a plan to the board member’s preferences, limitations, and timing. A sample agreement might include these five elements:
- I will give $100 each month for the next year using automatic deductions from a credit card or bank account—for a total annual gift of $1,200. This element will be adapted to each person’s budget–some will be able to be much more generous, others less so.
- In November, I will mail holiday letters or send emails asking friends and family to make contributions to the organization instead of sending gifts I don’t need. I will send at least 10 such letters with a goal of receiving at least $500. Once again, the amount depends on each member’s comfort level.
- I will proactively discuss the mission with at least one person or group every month for the next year. My goal will be to educate key community members about the good work of this organization and to inspire their support.
- I will join staff on five major donor visits between January and March. I will do my best to identify prospects and cultivate them prior to the visit. I hope at least two people will give—one at $500 and another at $1,000.
- I will make three thank you calls to donors each month.
Remember this is just a sample plan to give you some idea of the process. It will be different for each board member.
Monitor, Encourage, and Celebrate Board Member Success.
The Development Team, comprised of the Development Director, the Executive Director, the Board Chair, and the Development Committee Chair can divide up responsibility for monitoring and encouraging board members. Members of the all-important Development Team will follow a plan to do the following:
- Check in with each board member on a regular basis to find out how s/he is doing with the plan
- Ask if s/he needs any special support
- Offer to help however possible
I have found that board membes really appreciate this check-in and support to help them stay on track, especially considering their busy lives.
The Development Committee Chair makes a report at each board meeting celebrating the progress of each board member and the board as a whole. This will encourage board members and communicate the importance of working the plan. It will also send a strong message to the whole board that fundraising is important and rewarding,
If our Nominating Committees choose board members with intention; if we train board members with gusto; if we develop a personalized fundraising plan for each board member; and then monitor and encourage board members through the process, everyone will have lots to celebrate. Board members will have fun while meeting their critical fiduciary responsibility and the organization will reap the benefits in sustainability.