Is Your Nonprofit Board Ready for a Major Campaign?
Your nonprofit board is vital to the success of your organization. Chances are, if you struggle to meet your budget each year, your board is not truly engaged — and you may not even have the right board.
If you are looking toward a major campaign, you need to be sure that your board is ready for it. Campaign preparation should begin years out, including strategic planning, board development and more. When conducting planning studies, we often find board members who are not engaged. The organization has not invested the time in proper identification, recruiting, orienting, ongoing education and relationship-building with board members. Too often, some of the wrong people are at the board table.
Many times, the board has not been coached on fundraising and relationship-building. Board members should give at a leadership level, and they should establish and deepen relationships — with your coaching and guidance. I’ve asked more than 100 boards a simple question, “Do you like asking for money?” Never have more than 20% of the members raised their hands.
A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a board, and nobody said that they enjoy asking for a gift. This same board has a “give-or-get” policy. What does the “get” involve? Bringing in gifts. How is this achieved? I would think by asking for a gift. So, board members are involved in a task that they are not comfortable with and, therefore, probably not very effective at.
As you head toward a campaign — if you want to be successful — you need to prepare. At its core, this will entail having a strong, engaged board. You need to have a competent, involved board chair who interacts with the members outside of meetings and knows how to build consensus. When leadership has decided through due diligence and proper planning that a campaign is needed, the chair and CEO must guide the way.
If the board is weak or disengaged, invest in some intensive board development before you embark on a campaign. We always recommend that a nonprofit CEO visit in-person and individually with each board member at least once a year. These visits get elevated in their importance when we learn that many board members are not engaged and not on the same page.
Recently, we encountered a board member who was repeatedly vocal against having a campaign for a project that had been in a planning process and highly visible for more than a year. In a campaign planning study, we had identified enough gifts to enable the organization to move ahead with the campaign after an intensive three-month cultivation, preparation and board development period.
Still, he questioned, “We struggle to raise our annual giving. How in the world can we raise several times this?” We shared that it is not unusual for an organization to raise multiples of its annual fundraising in a major campaign. We shared that their prospect list contained a large percentage of high-net-worth individuals. We even asked this member to put aside his own inclination on giving and accept that we had found enough donors who would.
However, he is right in one regard. If this organization keeps doing what it has been doing — as it now has the chance to transform itself — then, it will not achieve its potential. Continuing with the same board and the same level of board engagement, it will struggle. But with an expanded board, and one that is fully in sync and engaged, it will soar. If the organization approaches fundraising the same as it has in the past, it obviously won’t.
Unfortunately, this board member was not open to a new approach and increased expectations, claiming the organization didn’t have the donor support. Sadly, we have seen this before. The questions that followed were about “the pitch” and corporate giving.
In reality, all the board members were being asked to do was to further identify and cultivate leaders in their sphere of influence. They had been told that no one would be asked to do anything they would not feel comfortable with and that a campaign-steering committee would be assisting senior staff in the asking.
The campaign-planning process, and especially the campaign planning study, are a call-to-action for the board. Frankly, if a board member doesn’t feel comfortable with a campaign or doesn’t want to participate in a significant way, it is probably their time to move aside. We often see a handful of board members fade away during or right after a study process. This is typically a very positive step for the nonprofit!
However, to attract the right campaign-steering committee, you need a committed board that operates strategically, is proactive in building key relationships and that sets an example with its own giving. You need a board that is building momentum toward your campaign.
When planning for a campaign, take steps to ensure that you have the board your incredible mission deserves. Be sure that members are in step with you on the vision and your potential campaign. Take time to educate them in core fundraising principles and to ensure that they understand their strategic role – not getting into the weeds and not abdicating their responsibility.
With all this in mind… is your board ready for a major campaign?
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.