There are lots of reasons why people don’t give to charity, but the number one reason is simply because they haven’t been asked. And there’s no more effective asker than a passionate, committed Board member.
After twenty-five years of raising money for a variety of organizations, including many years as a fundraising consultant, here’s what I know with certainty: the success of an organization’s fundraising program rarely eclipses the capacity of its board of directors. That’s why it’s important to tap their potential as vital members of the fundraising team.
Board members are volunteer advocates whose passion and credibility resonates with donors in a way that is different from paid staff. There is nothing more effective than a knowledgeable, committed board member and a professional staff member teaming up to ask someone to give. I refer to this as the “dynamic duo” of fundraising success.
For many volunteer board members, and sometimes staff, the fear of rejection is a powerful deterrent to participating in the fundraising process. As a result, board members (and sometimes staff) may focus on indirect ways of raising money such as recruiting teams for a golf tournament, selling tickets to a gala, and sending emails – anything to avoid asking someone face to face for an outright gift.
That’s because they forget one important thing: fundraising isn’t about money. Fundraising is about helping to connect a donor’s goals and interests with the mission of the organization. It’s about giving someone an opportunity to invest in the important work being done by the nonprofit.
As James Gregory Lord, author of The Raising of Money says, “Money is not given, it has to be raised. Money is not offered, it has to be asked for. Money does not come in, it has to be gone after.”Here are a few suggestions to help tap the fundraising potential of your Board:
(1) Secure 100% Board giving
Asking begins with giving. Which is why each board member should be asked to make their own personal gift. Too often this is done at a board meeting in the form of a blanket ask. Instead, board members should be treated like any other prospective donor and asked to give, preferably by a fellow board member, based on their individual ability and interest in the organization. By doing so, each board member experiences an ask from the donor’s point of view which is a great introduction to the asking process. Many prospective donors will expect the asker to have already given which is why making a personal financial before asking others is so important.
Some nonprofit Boards require every board member to give a specific amount. While this can be effective for some organizations, I prefer asking everyone to give at a level that’s meaningful to them.
(2) Demystify fundraising
Board members may think of fundraising as begging or arm twisting. They focus on the ask itself and not on the process of engaging people who are interested in the mission. Helping board members learn the art and science of fundraising can demystify the process and help board members see themselves as a vital part of the effort.
(3) Educate Board members about fundraising
Board members may be well-intentioned about fundraising but have no idea how to ask someone for a gift. To be successful, they need coaching, on-going education and support. This includes being familiar with thecase the support, cost of services, and how a requested gift will be spent. Prospective donors can tell when a volunteer is flying by the seat of their pants rather than being invested in the organization and outcome of the request.
Be sure fundraising is part of a quality orientation program for new Board members. Throughout the year, utilize board meetings to provide on-going education about fundraising. One way to do this is to share stories and real-life examples of how the organization is making a difference in the lives of people being served. Asking board members to share their successful stories of asking for and receiving a gift can be a helpful tool. Role plays, and hands-on activities can also help board members overcome their fear of asking.
(4) Set up Board members for Success
When board members are new to the fundraising process, it’s a good idea to help them experience success from the start. Whenever possible, try to schedule their first visit to ask for a gift when it’s likely the donor is going to say yes. The size of the gift is not as important as the commitment to give. I’ve seen this strategy work many times. The confidence gained from getting a “yes” can give new or reluctant board members the confidence they need to ask with greater confidence and to do so more frequently.
(5) Involve Board members in stewardship activities
The person most likely to give is someone who has already given. Thanking donors in thoughtful, personal ways is not only the right thing to do, it’s the first step in earning the right to ask again. Thanking donors and stewarding these relationships is an ideal opportunity to involve board members in fundraising. Writing thank you notes and making calls and visits with givers are great ways for them to hear directly from donors about why they give and build their confidence in asking others.
(6) Include Board members in the organization’s successes
It’s a good idea to visibly involve board members when the organization is being publicly recognized. By doing so, board members hear directly from the public and grateful recipients about the positive impact of the mission. These activities build their pride in the organization and help to strengthen their personal commitment.
(7) Be an Ambassador
Board members can be the organization’s best ambassadors. Encourage them to seek out opportunities within their sphere of influence to tell their story about the organization and why they serve. Civic clubs, community and faith-based groups, and local and regional business associations are ideal opportunities to spread the word. Sharing their story about the mission can help them open the doors to future donors.
(8) Cultivate, cultivate, cultivate.
The goal of any fundraising program is to develop givers, not just get gifts. Building long-term relationships is key to a robust, sustainable fundraising program. Board members play a vital role in this process and should be actively engaged in educating, cultivating and engaging current and possible donors in the work of the organization. People need to be inspired to be good, regular donors. That means board members are in the inspiration business.
Use these tips to help leadership volunteers understand and participate in the fundraising process. Then watch your fundraising goal be met and exceeded!
Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, is a 25+ year fundraising and nonprofit veteran, consultant, speaker and co-author of a weekly column called “Notes on Nonprofits.” She has helped countless boards improve fundraising results.