What to Do When Your Board Members Don’t Want to Ask for Gifts
If you are heading into a capital campaign, your board members will not only be called on to give generously of their own money, but they will be expected to ask their contacts and friends for generous gifts, too.
And that’s often a sticking point!
I’ve heard it a hundred times: "My board members don’t want to ask for gifts."
So what’s the real problem with your board members and asking?
It’s easy to believe, as I have for years, that the problem is that board members don’t know how to ask. They don’t know what to say. They don’t know who to ask or how much to ask them for.
But I’ve come to believe that the real problem isn’t that your board members aren’t expert fundraisers. I suspect that the real problem is that they don’t care deeply enough… at least not yet.
The Key to Asking Is Caring Deeply
When you really care about something, that deeply held passion gives you courage. You’re willing to stand up and share your passion with others.
And that’s what great askers do.
But many of your board members probably aren’t passionate about your cause.
They agree to serve because a friend asked them to. Or perhaps because board service will look good on their resumes. Perhaps they have a passing interest in the organization or are friends with the founder or board chair.
They are invited to serve a three-year term and they agree. They show up at meetings and perhaps a few events every year. They give what they are told to give—their obligatory gift. And when their time is up, they rotate off.
For board members like that, asking their friends to a party (the gala) feels easy and appropriate. Inviting friends to bid on goodies at an auction feels fine too. But asking for a generous gift to support the work of the organization? That feels downright awkward.
To ask for gifts well, you have to love the cause. You have to care deeply enough so that you are willing to share your belief and commitment with others. And when you do, asking becomes easy.
3 Steps to Help Board Members Care Enough
Here are three key ways for you to help your board members care enough to ask.
1. When you recruit a potential board member, talk about commitment.
When you recruit people for your board, don’t just make sure they will come to meetings and make a financial contribution. Go much farther than that…
Tell them that to serve on your board, they have to be willing to learn a great deal about your cause and your programs. Let them know that attending meetings is just the start.
Tell them that to serve on your board, they have to be willing to learn and become involved not only in board meetings, but in your programs and mission.
Tell them that you want to inspire them to become a crusader for the organization.
Tell them the amazing power and excitement of your organization does, and the remarkable things that happen as a result of your organization’s work.
Let them know, right up front, that the people who serve on your board come to care deeply enough to want to share their enthusiasm with others in many ways—including asking for gifts.
2. Engage board members fully in the mission.
People become committed as they learn more and become deeply involved. Make the education and involvement of your board members a priority.
Find ways for your board members to be active in the program, so they get to see it in action. Provide opportunities for them to become broadly knowledgeable about your organization’s cause.
3. Don’t tolerate spiritless performance.
If some of your board members merely show up and lack the passion for the cause, find a gentle, polite way to invite them to step down, leaving open their seat for people who are passionate. There’s nothing like a board full of committed, passionate people. And it only takes a few who don’t really care to undermine their enthusiasm.
Be sure that, every year, someone speaks one-on-one to every board member about his or her experience and commitment and willingness to be fully engaged.
Don’t Settle For Less Than the Board of Your Dreams
You don’t have to settle for a board of people who don’t really care. In fact, if you do, your board will be one of those boards in which members just sit out their terms.
Visualize the board of your dreams and set about creating it. In my experience, once you have a clear picture of what you want, the ingredients tend to turn up. Board members with amazing passion and potential are closer than you think they are. You just haven’t noticed them yet.
But remember, one of your most important jobs is to give board members everything they need to build their passion and commitment. Once you envision the board you’d like to have and take responsibility for training and educating and inspiring your board members, you will be able to build a board of people who have the passion and courage to ask.
And when it comes to a capital campaign, that’s super important!
My inbox has been overflowing with emails from people ready to get moving with their capital campaigns. If you’re ready to jump in, too, apply for a free campaign strategy call to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.