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The PeopleCap Playbook

Timely insights and actionable people strategies for leaders.

But I’m Not a Professional Fundraiser

Most nonprofits expect (hope, perhaps) that their board will raise money for them or at least strongly support their fundraising efforts. And yet it’s a common frustration among nonprofit leaders that their boards are falling short of those expectations. The reality, in my experience, is that very few organizations set their board members up to be successful at raising funds.

As one board member stated during a retreat I was facilitating, “I’m not a professional fundraiser.” Her organization was asking board members to raise more money in light of a looming shortfall. Of course, she wanted to help: she didn’t know what to do or how she was supposed to do it.

There are several hurdles that impede effective board fundraising: (1) our boards are made up of volunteers with other life priorities – you do need to prod them, follow-up, and hold them accountable; (2) they aren’t privy to the day-to-day insights of the organization so they only know how urgent the funding needs are if you tell them; and (3) ultimately, what is urgent to you as a person whose salary is a line item in the budget that fundraising covers and what is urgent to your board members who see all salaries bucketed together as one line item in a dense spread sheet is not always the same.

But three additional, and readily surmountable hurdles I’d like to discuss here are:

  • Many board members lack comfort with the idea of fundraising
  • Most board members don’t have fundraising experience or skills
  • You may not have the balance of skills on your board to align with your different funding strategies

Build comfort first! Many board members are uncomfortable with the idea of asking their friends for money. What they don’t know is that typically, that’s not what most organizations expect: the ED or Development Director will often make “the ask” if the board member will simply make the introduction and help to foster a relationship with the organization.

Paint a clear picture for your board members about what exactly you need them to do and what parts staff will do. Clarify their role: if they set up a coffee meeting, what happens next? Who actually makes “the ask” when the time comes?

Before you send people out to raise $X, develop their familiarity with different fundraising tactics and ask them to identify what energizes them the most: one board member may be very content to make thank you calls all day long; while another loves to host parties and invite their friends to learn about your mission; while yet another is happy to introduce you into their many corporate relationships. Determine where you need board help and ask the right person to help with the task they most enjoy.

Break fundraising down into measurable goals and bite-sized tasks. Be very clear about what you are asking your board to accomplish (ie: introduce us to 5 new contacts who have the capacity to give at $X level and set up a coffee meeting with each by a target date of X). Imagine the lights going off: “I can do that.” All too often we ask board members to introduce us to potential funders. What does that mean? How do I do that? It’s ambiguous and overwhelming, leaving your board member wondering if she is supposed to call 5 friends and directly ask them each to give $10,000. But setting up a coffee date or inviting people to an event or scheduling a friend for a tour feels clear and manageable.

Provide tools for your board members like sample introduction call scripts and elevator speeches on business cards. And set up time during board meetings (you only need 5 minutes for this) to practice. Find fun ways to practice elevator speeches, inviting friends to join you in investing, requesting auction items, etc. If you need help facilitating these practice sessions, contact Team BRIDGES – they do this professionally.

Develop Your Board’s Skills
Again, add an education minute to your board meetings to work on fundraising one bite at a time. Bring in presenters or offer training. Celebrate successes like the board member who introduced you to a contact over coffee, the board member who brought the most new contacts to an event, or the board member who has brought in a new contact for a tour.

Additionally, ask board members to share their stories of introducing new contacts to the organization with their board colleagues: what did it feel like to have a gift they spearheaded come in? What did they learn? What do they wish they’d known going in to be better prepared?

Create fun, friendly competitions. Who can bring the most, new contacts in for a tour or to an event? Who can make the most thank you calls or solicit the most auction items? Try not to focus on the largest donations but rather on the results of those clear, simple tasks.

Balance the Skills on Your Board
There are a lot of ways to view the talents on your board. For fundraising, I suggest listing all of your revenue-generating strategies (ie: earned revenue, events, building the pipeline, large individual giving, corporate sponsorship, etc.) and then thinking about what skills would provide good insights, leadership, and support in that area. For example, if you’re considering adding a new earned revenue stream, do you have a board member who is a salesperson or entrepreneur? If you’re working to expand your donor pipeline, do you have board members associated with networks and communities you haven’t tapped into or younger connectors who can help rally a troupe of new volunteers who could become future donors?

For a longtime there has been a mindset of building boards around people who are connected to a lot of potential large, individual donors. There are many consequences of that strategy that we see today, most notably a lack of board diversity and limited donor breadth. The other pitfall is the missed opportunity that people from diverse backgrounds and skillsets bring to your fundraising efforts.

To build a successful fundraising board out of a bunch of non-fundraisers, first intentionally recruit a diverse board with a variety of skills that match your fundraising strategies, then develop their skills and help them become more comfortable with their role and the work they need to do to help you raise money.