Positioning Your Board for Effective Fundraising
Very few organizations can say their boards are as aggressive in fundraising as they'd like them to be. If you feel that your board might be leaving much-needed money on the table, there are things you can do to enhance its fundraising effectiveness.
In the session "Getting Your Board Happily, Productively and Competently Involved in Fundraising" at the 2009 Bridge Conference held just outside of Washington, D.C., last week, Carol Weisman, president of Board Builders, shared advice on how to get the most ask-averse board members involved and trained in fundraising for your organization.
First, Weisman addressed some concepts that nonprofit staff need to keep in mind. Among them:
1. Board members need to be involved in fundraising. Not all board members are aware that they're expected to fundraise, and fundraising isn’t the reason people join boards. The reasons people join boards are as varied as the board members themselves _ e.g., they might have been personally affected by the cause. But fundraising is, indeed, a board member responsibility.
2. Fundraising doesn't necessarily require asking for money. Board members can get involved anywhere in the fundraising process, not necessarily just "the ask."
"All board members have their own kryptonite," Weisman said. "Ask your folks what they want to do and what they don't want to do. Respect their vulnerability, and ask if they are willing to do something with training and a partner … then listen closely."
3. Time isn't money. A board member's time is of great value; it won't, however, keep the lights on or pay the rent.
4. You can't just form a fundraising board or leadership council to raise money in place of board fundraising.
5. No one has ever died from fundraising. Board members will survive asking someone for money and being turned down.
Weisman said she often hears board members say things like, "But we have staff. Why should I be doing the fundraising?" She stresses to them that it's a partnership, like "a truffle hound and a farmer." One sniffs out the gift, and the other picks it up. "The job of staff is to make the board effective and vice versa," she said.
Some ideas Weisman shared for increasing fundraising involvement by your board members include:
1. Make fundraising a part of every board meeting. Have a "mission moment," celebrating a victory, sharing a need, etc. Be deliberate about it.
2. Make fundraising training a part of your annual board retreat. And budget for board leadership to go to relevant conferences.
3. Ask yourself these questions:
- How are you training your board in fundraising? Weisman talked about the "checkers vs. chess" school of board management. Don't treat board members like checkers, as though they all have the same abilities, she stressed. Treat them like chess pieces, with different skills and strengths. Find out how you can use board members' skills effectively by sitting down and talking with each of them once or twice a year.
- Do you have the "right" people on your board? Be sure to tell board members what you expect of them. If you don't have one, your organization needs a board commitment letter that you give to each board member that includes an attendance policy, financial expectations, committee assignments, details on length of term, assignment of a board mentor, a description of the board member's role in special events, and a suggestion of a planned gift.
4. Explain the process of fundraising. There's a reason it's called "development" and not "quickie," Weisman said. It's a process that involves:
- The ask
Given the current climate, assume that you'll need to put more time and effort into cultivation and stewardship.
5. Get to know your board members. What attracted them to your organization? How much time do they have? What decisions should you never make without asking a specific member? Who do they know? What is their sphere of influence? What other charities are they involved with? How do they want to be acknowledged?
6. Offer options. Create a menu of opportunities regarding how board members can get involved in fundraising for your organization that allows them to fill in where they want to help out. Some "menu" items you can offer board members Weisman include:
- Sending a news clipping to friends, donors and supporters
- Researching a potential donor
- Looking for funding sources
- Creating an e-zine or blog
- Putting photos on your Web site
- Writing informational articles for your Web site
- Writing e-books that can be sold
- Inviting a friend, relative or business associate to the agency
- Having a meeting of a group that you are involved in at the charity, and organize a tour
- Having a home reception where a representative from the organization tells the story of its mission
- Initiating a lunch, dinner or other visit with a "closer" and a potential donor
- Inviting a potential donor to a special event
- Writing an article for publication. Connect your organization with breaking news, or go on the speaking circuit, speaking at rotary clubs, churches, temples, etc. Getting contact information, and ask for more than money.
If board members sign up to take part in the ask, Weisman shared a few tips to best prepare them:
- The most effective ask is in person, one to one. Next best is in a group, then online or direct mail.
- Write your own check before asking others.
- Study the case and know how to overcome objections.
- Set up meetings with clients, friends and other potential donors with someone who can fill in pieces of the case that you don't know.
- Create a powerful, tag-team approach.
- When asking a large group, tell your story and ask the audience to get involved.
- Remember that in most cases, no means no today. Not forever.
When it comes to stewardship, it's all about the "platinum rule," (treat others as they want to be treated), Weisman said, not the golden rule. Train board members to thank people often, creatively, graciously and cheaply, as research shows that a large percentage of donors will give a second — even larger — gift if thanked by a board member.
Other stewardship ideas Weisman shared include:
- When you thank a donor, instead of asking for more money, consider asking for information or advice.
- Offer behind-the-scenes tour to donors.
- See if the donor wants to be involved in a focus group. "People love to give their opinion even more than money," Weisman said.
- See if the donor will grant permission to publicize the gift with the media, internally and on your Web site.
- Hand write thank-you notes.
- Thank donors via the phone.
- Invite donors to lunches, dinners and thank-you events.
- Offer donors naming opportunities (buildings, walls, rocks, animals, plants, etc.).
Weisman is the author of the book "Transforming Ordinary People Into Fundraising Superheroes! Even For Those Who Hate to Ask." Download it for free here.