Just the mention of the word “fundraising” can make many nonprofit board members a little nervous. But there are ways we can change their minds about fundraising. Here are 10 important steps that can re-energize your board and engage their hearts and minds for fundraising.
ONE: Re-awaken their vision and passion.
If your board members actually are bored, they certainly won’t be willing to tackle fundraising. Board meetings are an important tool in keeping them involved — they’re your board members’ principal point of contact with your organization. Design your meetings so they set up discussions about issues that can affect your organization’s future.
Let your board members do the talking. Meetings should be 70 percent board members talking and 30 percent staff talking. Use consent agendas to reduce the unimportant, routine business of the meeting.
Be sure to have at least one good discussion question prepared for the board for every meeting. And for a change, try a “fireside chat” with the executive director or development director in lieu of a regular meeting once in a while. Don’t let Roberts and his Rules of Order create a dry, passionless meeting focused on minutiae that misses the important — and exciting — issues.
TWO: Give them what they want.
It’s important to remember that board members are giving up their valuable spare time for your organization. They’re choosing to spend time with you, and they want to help your organization achieve its mission in the world. You have to set up opportunities for them to be involved and actually help or they’ll wonder, “What’s the point?”
And remember that they’re also joining the board for social reasons. Help them meet the other board members. Always, always use name tags at meetings to facilitate introductions.
Build in social time to help your board create friendships. How can board members function as an effective group if they don’t know each other? The most valuable time at the meeting could be “coffee time.” Time for casual, social conversations helps create much-needed collegiality and a better sense of teamwork.
THREE: Redefine fundraising.
Board members need to understand that they’re not just trying to raise money — they’re really trying to change the world. Instead of focusing on money, they need to be talking about ideas and vision and a better future. If you can get them in touch with their passion for your mission, then it’s much easier for them to envision asking for support from their friends and community.
Remind board members that they’re very important. They actually “own” this problem in their community and are the ones who the community is looking to for solutions. Empower your board members by reminding them that, as volunteers, they’re doing this out of their desire to make a difference — and that makes them extremely effective solicitors.
FOUR: Take the emphasis off soliciting.
Board members often equate fundraising with soliciting. It’s important to show them the many ways they can help in fundraising without having to solicit. They often are surprised to find that just opening doors is one of the most valuable services they can provide.
Show your board members the traditional fundraising cycle: identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. Point out all the activities that are involved in each step and where they can help. Tell them about the studies that show when board members make personal calls to thank donors, donor attrition lessens, gifts go up and donors are pleased. They actually can directly impact the bottom line without soliciting.
FIVE: Deal with their fears directly.
Some board members aren’t just nervous; they’re frozen with fear and won’t budge unless you give them a chance to talk about their discomfort. There’s a rule in psychology that unexpressed negative emotions tend to intensify. But once a person talks about the negativity, it dissipates.
Stage a conversation in which board members turn to the person next to them and share how they feel about money, or soliciting for money. Then have a group discussion. Let them get all the bad stuff out on the table. Be sure to follow with a discussion about how they feel when they make a gift as a donor. Bring out all the wonderful, warm, fuzzy feelings associated with giving, and remind them that this is what they’re offering donors.
SIX: Give them the right tools and training.
Many board members simply don’t know what to do. They need to be educated about fundraising — what it is, how it’s done, the best practices and, most importantly, how they can help. Do they know about fact sheets and elevator speeches? Do they really know how to use them? Try setting up exercises for them to practice talking about your organization. This is a great way to liven up a dry board meeting.
SEVEN: Set clear, high expectations.
Many board members are confused about their roles and frequently disheartened about their perceived inability to make a real difference. Give them one thing to do at a time, and clearly let them know what you need for them to focus on now. For example, the board needs to “own” the annual gala for about three months to make it as successful as possible. Each board member should have an assignment that helps the gala succeed.
Expectations, of course, start when the members are enlisted to join the board. Be sure you explicitly let all new members know that help in fundraising is required.
EIGHT: Put fundraising up front on your agenda.
How fundraising is presented at board meetings has a lot to do with its visibility in front of board members. Don’t present this report without telling them what they can do to help it succeed. Fundraising results and plans should be up front at every meeting. It could be the most important
discussion of the evening. Your board members need to understand your organization’s fundraising program, its challenges and opportunities.
NINE: Make sure everyone gives.
This basic rule never goes away. Board members have got to understand that they can’t, in good conscience, ask others to support the organization unless they do first. Also, they need to know that giving is an expectation of board membership.
Soliciting the board is an art. Make sure, of course, that members are asking each other and that you are not visibly involved. Let them know that all board gifts need to be in by a certain date. Loudly report at each meeting where you stand with all board members making gifts.
TEN: Find easy roles for everyone to be successful.
Set your board members up to win. Never, ever send them out on cold calls. Instead, take them on donor thank-you visits. Have them write or call donors to thank them. Give them a cultivation assignment at your next big event.
Gail Perry is the founding principal of Perry & Associates, a Raleigh, N.C.-based fundraising training and consulting firm. She can be reached at email@example.com.