Your board of directors has an integral role to play in the development process. Yet, many non-profit fundraisers (and board members) are frustrated with the interaction between the board and the staff when it comes to raising money.
In my experience, countless fundraisers are unsatisfied with their board’s participation in development, in part because they have unrealistic expectations. Rare indeed is the board member who will walk in your door every week with new checks from major donors they have cultivated on their own.
Likewise, many board members get upset with the development staff because they feel like they are being hounded for not raising enough money, even though they are doing as much as they are comfortable with in order to help.
There’s a better way, if you’re willing to think differently about board fundraising. Here’s a five-step strategy for getting your board members excited about and engaged in the fundraising process:
#1 – Remind Them of the Importance of Fundraising
Deep down, your board members know how important fundraising is to your non-profit. But sometimes it can seem like we try hard to make them forget. Most board meetings are focused on programs, with development tacked on as an afterthought.
When we do talk about fundraising with our boards, it is often either defensively (“we had a rough month with fundraising but we’re working really hard!”), or pleadingly (“we need your help, please give us three names to add to our event sponsor mailing!”). This turns board members off and makes reluctant to get more involved.
Instead, develop a culture of philanthropy for your board. Make sure that everyone understands that fundraising is the most important thing you do, because it enables you to run all of your programs. Put development front and center at board meetings, and don’t be shy about it. Whenever possible, reconnect your board with your mission and tie it together with fundraising.
One non-profit I know does this by opening every board meeting with a “mission minute,” where the program staff tells the story of someone they helped over the past month. The executive director then connects that story with fundraising, by reminding the board how much it cost to help that person, and how many people are out there that still need to be helped.
#2 – Show Them How They Can Help… Without Making Asks
The next step is to show your boar how they can help with fundraising, without making asks. Many board members hate asking friends and family for money… and think that making asks is the only way to assist with fund development. That’s unfortunate, because there are lots of different ways your board can help that will have a big impact on your development program:
Every board member should be a donor to your organization.
Every board member should be a fundraising visionary, helping you set goals and making sure that the development program has the resources it needs to be successful.
Some board members can provide fundraising support by making thank you calls, helping write personal notes on fundraising letters, etc.
Most board members can and should be serving as fundraising ambassadors for your organization. This role is perhaps the most important way they can help with your development efforts. Serving as a fundraising ambassador means networking on behalf of your non-profit and introducing your staff to their friends, colleagues, vendors, clients, neighbors, and new people that they meet that might be interested in your cause.
Being a fundraising ambassador is different from making asks, because you are not telling your board that they have to request gifts from their network. Instead, you are asking them to connect you with people they know so that you can gently and gradually introduce them to your work and see if they might be a good fit for an ask at some point in the near future.
Making these types of connections is the single biggest way that board members can help you fundraise. Most board members I know resist the idea of “fundraising,” but embrace the idea of “serving as an ambassador” for the non-profits they love.
#3 – Meet with Board Members One-on-One to Ask Them to Help
If you want your board members to serve as ambassadors for your organization, you need to ask them to do so. This means you need to sit down with your board members and ask, “would you be willing to help us meet new people who may be interested in our work?” I find that, just like fundraising asks, these asks are best done one-on-one and in person, and not as a group ask in front of the entire board.
My advice is that you go out and visit each of your board members (or give them a call, if they are based in a different city or country) to ask them to serve as an ambassador for your non-profit.
#4 – Make it Easy for Your Board to Help
To really entice your board to help you connect with new prospective donors, you’ll need to make it as easy as possible for them to help. If you ask a board member to serve as an ambassador, but don’t tell them how to do it or what to do once they make a connection, they will quickly stop. Make sure your board knows what types of people you are looking to be connected with and how they can make the connection.
One of the best ways to make it easy for your board to make connections with you is to set-up a series of non-ask events and encourage your board to bring their friends, family, and business colleagues to these events to hear more about your work. You should also be sure to provide your board with lots of materials and handouts they can use as they talk to people about your organization.
#5 – Support and Recognize their Work
Finally, if you want your board to continue to help with your fundraising program, you need to be sure that you support them when they need help and recognize the good work that they are doing on your behalf.
When board members call with a fundraising question, respond promptly. When they ask you to have lunch with a contact, schedule it promptly. If they’re not sure how to approach a certain person, spend time with them figuring it out.
Be sure to thank you board members profusely when they make connections for you, and be sure to recognize their successes at your board meetings. Your board is an integral part of your fundraising team, so be sure to treat them as such.
Photo Credit: reynermedia