How to Ease Your Board of Directors into Fundraising Leadership

by Joe Garecht

Non-Profit Board Room

I’m a strong proponent of the notion that a non-profit’s board of directors should be actively engaged in the organization’s fundraising efforts.

This means that the board should not only hold an organized board giving campaign each year, but that the board should also help the non-profit build a fundraising network by opening up their own personal Rolodexes to help the organization grow its prospect list.

That being said, board members don’t get involved with non-profits solely to fundraise.  And many board members feel that the non-profits they serve ask them to go back to the same people for money again and again, which obviously produces diminishing returns.

And… frankly… many non-charities recruit board members with the notion that fundraising is only a small part of what the board does.  Then, those same organizations change course when a consultant tells them that the board should be far more involved in development than it currently is.  When this happens, board members feel shell shocked, and often reluctant.

Self-Inflicted Fundraising Wounds

Much of the fear and anxiety that board members feel about fundraising is caused by non-profits themselves.  So often, Development Directors and Executive Directors approach board members with what I call “fundraising dictates.”  These dictates usually sound like this:

  • “We need you to give us the names of 5 people we can approach for gifts.”
  • “It’s annual gala time.  Who can you get sponsorships from?”
  • “I want to set up more fundraising meetings this year.  Which of your colleagues can I ask for a gift?”

With an approach like that, it’s no wonder a board member would be reluctant to share her friends, family, coworkers and business partners with a non-profit organization.  If the charity is that tactless with their own board member, imagine how forward they will be with her contacts!

Board Fundraising Need Not Cause Anxiety

Asking your board to help you raise more money need not cause anxiety or sleepless nights.  The board should see fundraising as a partnership between the development office and the board, as opposed to a competitive venture where the development staff is constantly trying to trick the board into sharing more names or make more asks.

The best way to reduce anxiety is to stop seeing your board as a source of revenue, and start seeing your board as a source of introductions.  Sure, your board should directly donate to your organization.  And yes… your board should occasionally make asks from folks in their network.  But for the most part, your board should be introducing their friends and business associates to your non-profit, and your organization should be slowly and respectfully walking these contacts down the cultivation funnel.

You don’t need your board members to be salespeople for your organization… instead, ask them to be ambassadors for your non-profit, helping you meet new people and reach into new networks.

A Simple Strategy that Works

Many times, when I work with an organization that wants its board to be more active in fundraising, I tell them to try a simple strategy.  It will likely work for your non-profit too:

First, at your next board meeting, tell the board that you are changing tactics.  You are no longer asking the board to directly ask for money, unless they feel comfortable doing so.  Instead, you are asking the board to make introductions for your non-profit, and to serve as ambassadors for your organization.

Second, walk the board through your cultivation funnel.  Tell them that when they refer someone to the organization, all they need to do is make the introduction (preferably in-person).  You will take it from there.  You won’t ask the person for money during the first meeting or call.  You won’t ask the person for money during the second meeting or call.  Instead, you will build a relationship with them.  You will cultivate before you ask.

Third, set up a series of non-ask events at your organization.  Ask your board members to consider inviting colleagues and associates to these events.  Remind your board that you won’t ask for money at these events, or during the follow up call.  Sure, you will eventually ask for money, but only when the person says they really want to get involved.  Build trust with your board.

Time and again, I have seen this strategy work with non-profit boards.  Over time (usually 6 months to a year), the board starts to trust the development staff with their friends, family and business associates.  They start to make introductions, trusting that the fundraisers won’t jump the gun.  The non-profit stops begging for introductions, and earns them instead.

Photo Credit:  Jeffrey Beall

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