It's Time to Be Volunteer-Centric: Finding the Sweet Spot Between Board Members and Fundraising
It’s still one of the chief complaints among nonprofit CEOs: Board members not engaged enough in fundraising. It’s frustrating to have the responsibility fall back on you. It’s too hard and demoralizing to think you’re in this alone. It detracts from the rest of the competing priorities you need
But more and more organizations are getting it right. What are they doing differently to achieve the scenario where each board member is involved in bringing more resources into the organization.
It’s a Partnership
Your board members don’t wake up in the morning and start thinking of ways to ruin your day. But they may be dreading that F-word—fundraising. How can you create an environment in which volunteers feel confident and inspired to raise funds for your important mission work?
Take a moment to reflect and see if you are making these mistakes.
• Assuming everyone understands how to do what you’re asking.
• Making group announcements and sending group emails to inform and inspire board members.
• Overlooking the opportunity to develop board members individually.
• Placing all the blame on the volunteers and not owning your part of the issue.
• Not asking what board members need to be excellent fundraisers.
• Thinking everyone is motivated by the same things.
This work is a partnership and the nonprofits that are getting it right started taking a more individualized approach. When CEOs realize that being volunteer-centric—just like we work to be donor-centric—is the key to success, we see improved results. It requires a shift in mindset.
When a small organization that serves a homeless population was struggling, they spent time shifting the culture and taking an individualized approach to board fundraising. They met with each board member personally to understand what motivated them and ask where they felt they fit into the plan. One lady was determined that she wasn’t a “fundraiser.” However, she was amazingly successful in telling the story of their good work and the more she told this story, the more donations came in as a result. In one year, they doubled their individual donations.
6 Steps to Finding that Sweet Spot
1. Enroll a few champions from the board to work alongside you and advocate for shifting your culture. Don’t underestimate the value of peer-to-peer influence. When you can count on others to assist in delivering the message and coaching others, you can start building a true fundraising team.
2. Change your language. For example, stop “asking” and invite people to invest. Use the word outreach more than fundraising. Since raising money can still have a negative stigma attached to it (in the U.S., we were raised to think it’s not polite to talk about money, for instance), let’s re-think how we talk about it. The psychology behind this simple change is fascinating!
3. Train your board members on this psychology of raising money to support your cause. You may have a problem if they believe funding your mission is about arm-twisting and coercion. There are plenty of books and articles you can share with them to start the conversation. You may be surprised how your board members become more receptive when they understand more about why people give and remain loyal.
4. Educate board members on the cycle of fundraising and ask them individually where they see themselves getting started. There are many ways to engage—they can participate in a brainstorming session on how to acquire new donors; they can host an event to introduce folks to the organization; they can attend a meeting with a major donor and tell their own story about why they serve; they can call new donors to thank them for their investment; they can ask a donor to volunteer. The key here is to meet them where they are and understand their talents and motivation in order to provide the best opportunities for success.
5. Hold them accountable. If volunteers say they will do something and they don’t, there is a reason. Find out what it is and ask what they need to be successful. Perhaps it’s just more time, or maybe they don’t know how to sell your case confidently.
6. Celebrate the wins. Determine in advance what you will measure and how you will monitor progress then call out the positives! Sometimes we are so focused on what’s not going well that we forget there’s a team working hard to support the mission, and every personal or group win deserves notice.
The sweet spot between board members and fundraising will jump out at you when you embrace the idea of being volunteer-centric. Will you commit to investing in your board members this way? Are the people who are counting on you worth it?
Cindi Phallen works with nonprofit boards and executives to build healthy boards that raise more money and execute on their vision. She is an author, educator, speaker, president of Create Possibility and a former ED. Known for asking the tough questions, she is on a mission to change the mindset of nonprofit leaders, so they move from intention to execution and maximize their impact.
Her popular book, “The Impact Triangle: The 3 Essentials to Accelerate Your Nonprofit Enterprise,” is recommended as mandatory reading for executives and volunteers. Cindi teaches fundraising at the University of San Diego, serves on various boards and is a Viewpoint partner for Social Venture Partners.
Cindi spends her free time jogging on the beach, snowboarding or watching her beloved Philadelphia Eagles!