When you are invested in an organization with your time, talents and treasures, you are fully invested. Board members should be passionate enough about their organization’s mission to be joyfully engaged in its fundraising.
“Board engagement is second only to a strong case in fundraising importance,” Clark D. Baker, former CEO of the YMCA of Greater Houston, said. “Board engagement allows you to give credibility to the fundraising process without the board lending their names and financial support. It is just a nice cause.”
In addition to a passion for your mission, board members have a very serious responsibility—by law they must act in accordance with the fiduciary duties of care, loyalty and obedience. A fiduciary is responsible for the administration, investments, monitoring and distribution of assets, from tangible assets to a nonprofits reputation. This responsibility includes ensuring that there is sufficient income to meet commitments.
Impact of Giving and Engagement
Board members should be leadership donors, which means different things for a grassroots organization than for a major university foundation. And the definition of leadership giving changes as an organization evolves. You can find members to fill the various board roles you need and who are happy to make a leadership gift. This may take time, but with a plan and focus, you can get there.
“The Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund Volunteerism and Charitable Giving in 2009 Executive Summary” found those who have volunteered in the last 12 months donated 10 times more money to charities than non-volunteers. The study also showed that two-thirds of those who volunteered in the last 12 months say they donated to the same charities for which they volunteer. If your organization needs to raise funds, what powerful evidence of the importance of board (and other meaningful volunteers) engagement do you need? Board giving also is a strong anchor and inspiration to other donors for an established nonprofit.
“Board involvement in fundraising is very important, because if people are entrusting large sums of money to a nonprofit, they want to know who is responsible and who is managing the assets,” Pamela Barden, DBA, CFRE, author of the fourth edition of “The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management, said.”
Maximizing Fundraising Effectiveness
Peer-to-peer fundraising is where board members appropriately and effectively leverage relationships, as well as the respect they enjoy in their community and other spheres of influence.
Ten years ago, I believed each board member must ask for a gift. I have moderated that to believe each board member must be an ambassador, make connections, be a joyful leadership giver and, if comfortable, ask for a gift.
Too often, we fall short in truly engaging and cultivating donors. We become caught up in the ask when, if we have done our job and developed sincere relationships, so many of our best friends will, in fact, ask how they can help.
Recently, a foundation had a goal for a special fund. There were many generous donors. However, as the deadline neared, they were short of the goal. Leaders rallied. One donor emailed to ask what was needed to achieve the goal. and the next day. they received notice of a generous gift from this donor, allowing them to surpass the goal.
You have a development plan, and your staff executes the fundraising strategy, so don’t allow board members to become focused on tactics, such as your direct mail and social media programs. Make it clear they are responsible for major gift relationships.
“We have an obligation to find a fundraising role that each member feels comfortable and can be successful in,” Barden said. “A lot of nonprofits go wrong in setting no expectations for board members. Sometimes we change the game plan on that board member when we really didn’t tell them what was expected of them.”
We prefer to minimize what we ask of board members and campaign volunteers. It is more beneficial to have board members nurture two relationships they are comfortable with than task them with many relationships and asks that are intimidating for them. You can always add another relationship or two once they find success.
Ongoing coaching and educating of board members is essential in all their roles—especially fundraising. Breakdown cultivation. Make it easy. Provide methods each month, so they can use them to connect and share about your organization and thank donors. A board member thanking a donor means a lot to a donor and helps a board member build fundraising confidence.
We know that face-to-face interactions are the most effective. A board member’s role might include hosting friends on awareness tours, connecting staff leaders to prospective major donors or hosting cultivation gatherings or other events. However, events are wasted efforts without the plan and ability to follow up.
Personal visits are best, because you can engage in conversation specific to that prospective donor and gauge his or her interest. It also gives you the opportunity to demonstrate best practices to a board member. Have a formal system for tracking these activities, follow-up with board members on their next steps with the relationships they are cultivating and continually ask them to identify additional prospective donors.
“When we only bring board members together for meetings and focus on report, we are not being good advocates,” Barden said. “We need to be sure to provide coaching so that, if nothing else, they can introduce the organization to people and they have the elevator speech and stories to share.”
Most nonprofits of moderate size have a CEO or development professional who is comfortable and passionate about asking for a gift. Combining the skills of these professionals with the connections and credibility a board member brings is powerful.
“If you find board members who have a passion for the project or institution, then it’s our job to teach them the art of fundraising. It is getting them comfortable on a call,” Baker said.
“Once you have built trust between you and the board member, they feel more comfortable in fundraising,” Baker added. “Sometimes you have to say the number, but if they get you in the room with the potential donor and can talk about the importance of this effort and how they have supported it themselves, it can be transformational.”
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.