Success in Fundraising Starts With the Board of Directors
The last decade was characterized as a time of plenty in the charitable arena: plenty of good causes, plenty of organizations, plenty of government support, plenty of corporate and foundation money, and plenty of individual giving.
Well, guess what? The party’s over. Unquestionably we are in the midst of a worrisome rebalancing and readjustment of charitable dollars. To succeed in this and the impending economic climate, nonprofits must renew their commitment to the basic fundamentals of fundraising. It starts with the board of directors.
Make sure that your board members agree to adopt best practices with regard to their responsibilities. In the area of fundraising, this means that the board must insure that the culture of philanthropy and the commitment to the case for support of the organization start in the boardroom. Before board members can turn to their loyal donors and new prospective donors, they must clearly and unequivocally demonstrate their own support of the organization. This has never been more important than it is right now.
Donations are down, government funding is tentative and foundations have less money. At the same time, the demand for services, scholarships, programs and advocacy is soaring. Funders are asking, “Is your organization a good investment for me?” Potential donors are asking organizations to demonstrate how they have planned to meet the needs of the community and simultaneously positioned themselves to survive possible funding cuts. It is vital for board members to publicly demonstrate their confidence in and financial support of their own organizations.
Following are some tips for creating and maintaining the most valuable kind of board for your organization.
1. Board member giving
One of the key responsibilities of every board member is to ensure sound resources and finances for the organization. That means the board is responsible for seeing to it that the organization has the funds to carry out its mission. Before board members can begin to fundraise externally, each must make a personal financial commitment. The old ideas — “I give my time, so I don’t have to give my money.” “I’m on a lot of boards, so I can’t give much.” “You should appreciate me for my good ideas ... that’s enough.” — are out. O-U-T … out. Each and every board member must make a financial contribution annually that is personally significant and meaningful.
2. Annual board orientation
No matter how mature, well-heeled or experienced your board is, there should be an Annual Board Orientation scheduled every single year. Ideally, this is when you bring in your new members, so everyone can start the year on equal footing. This is the time for a review of the responsibilities your organization has set forth for board members, reaffirmation of your board giving policy, agreement to a strategic fund development initiative and, above all, a recommitment to the mission of your organization.
3. Board expansion and diversification
The dynamic nonprofit board enforces term limits, rotates leadership and actively recruits new members. Thereby the board enlarges its circle of influence, attracts new skill sets, expands funding sources and strengthens its organization. The responsibility for new-member recruitment must be shared by all. Each board member should be an ambassador for the organization and dedicate the time and energy to cultivating new members in much the same way you would cultivate a prospect for a major gift.
4. Contingency plan
Every nonprofit organization, school, congregation and public benefit group should be actively rethinking its activities and creating contingency plans based on the new economic realities. Fiscal Management Associates and the Nonprofit Finance Fund offer tools, checklists, tips and a free webinar from their December 2008 event: The 2009 Nonprofit Economic Climate: Managing Through the Downturn. Take advantage of these free resources, and put these topics on your agenda for your next board meeting.
5. Board training
Budget and plan for training sessions for your board members to continue to build the skills needed to create and articulate the case for support (the elevator speech won’t be enough in this environment), and learn how to be strong ambassadors for your cause. Training will help them learn how best to support your organization’s fundraising initiatives and ensure your development office has the resources and technology needed to succeed.
Ruthellen S. Rubin is a consultant to nonprofit organizations specializing in fund development, technology and board training, and a professor of fundraising and philanthropy at New York University. She presented a session on this topic at the New York Fundraising Summit presented by the Center For NonProfit Success earlier this month.