Why Your Board Should Discuss Philanthropy for 15 Minutes at Each Meeting
Board members are busy.
So, if you’re having trouble getting them excited about their fundraising role, it’s important to make expectations clear and realistic. Instead of having a typical boring board report as part of the fundraising portion of the board agenda, why not send that report in advance of the meeting? Then you can turn your fundraising time on the agenda into a fun, participatory and meaningful discussion.
Try to make sure “philanthropy” has a spot on your board agenda at every meeting.
Everyone on the board has a fiduciary responsibility to assure you have the funds needed to fulfill your mission — not just the development committee, executive director or development staff person. So, every individual serving on a nonprofit board should develop a familiarity with the ins and outs of fundraising, why it’s needed and how to contribute.
Discuss Philanthropy for 15 Minutes at Board Meetings?
Here are four strategies to put philanthropy on your board agenda, one topic at a time.
1. Focus on Gratitude
Talk about thanking donors. Note how a prompt, personal thank you shows donors you can be trusted to follow through, kick-starting the connection that becomes the foundation of any lasting relationship.
Here’s a useful exercise: Ask everyone to think about a time they’ve been thanked that was really meaningful and why. Write down:
- How did that thank you make you feel?
- In what way was it personal?
- What exactly made it special?
Ask a few people to share their experiences. Then ask everyone to recall ways other nonprofits have thanked them — especially in ways that really stand out.
Learn how each board member would like to be thanked. Then wrap up with a brainstorm around how you should be thanking donors:
- What are we doing well?
- What can we do better?
- How would board members like to help on this front?
Consider giving board members the opportunity to thank people — by phone or in writing — at the beginning or end of board meetings.
2. Zero in on Cultivation
Make cultivation the topic. Discuss how you build relationships between donors — or potential donors — and your nonprofit.
Here’s another useful exercise. Ask everyone to share relationship-building and list their responses on a white board or flipchart. The question is this: How do you/can you engage donors with our organization? Typical answers may include:
- Invite them to events (behind-the-scenes tour, house party, open house, fundraiser).
- Ask them to volunteer (committees, ad hoc groups, direct service).
- Host a getting-to-know-you event.
- Send newsletters.
- Send personal notes.
- Call to say thanks, provide updates or answer questions.
- Sit down for coffee to get to know them.
After this brain dump, ask each board member to select one to three ways they can help engage, or build a relationship with, someone in their network or on your donor prospect list. Have them write it down on a piece of paper with their name and hand it into you, so you can follow up individually.
Welcome a few people to share, noting if they see any obstacles to executing their selected strategy. If they do, probably others do too. It’s good for you to know.
3. Discuss Legacy Giving and Bequests
Legacy giving can be a delicate topic because no one wants to think about their mortality. If everyone is uncomfortable talking about it, what’s the chance anyone is actually going to leave a bequest?
In advance of the board meeting, pick up the phone (or send an email) to let board members know you plan to discuss legacy giving at your upcoming meeting. Ask if they have any charitable bequests in their wills and, if so, can they share why. Note the bequest need not be to your organization, but if they’re willing to share why they created it and how easy it was, then there can be a discussion.
Discuss why it’s difficult to talk about bequests, as well as how beneficial bequests are for charitable organizations. The truth is everyone dies. And if people manage to not outlive all their assets, someone else is going to get them. You can’t take it with you. It turns out there are just three choices of where to distribute your hard-earned money:
Some people have more than their heirs will need, and might welcome the opportunity to perpetuate their values by leaving a meaningful legacy to support your work. Others may have more than the government will allow them to leave heirs without incurring estate taxes. In this case, an alternative choice to leaving money to the government is leaving money to a beloved charity
4. Celebrate Board Member Successes
Celebration leads to inspiration — what a great way to use your 15 minutes!
When a board member helps with fundraising/financing by picking up the phone to make a call, bringing someone in for a tour, hosting a prospective or new donor event or meeting someone for coffee — publicly share how much of a difference it made.
Everyone needs to know actions taken by board members are meaningful and not taken for granted. When you help board members understand how simple fundraising — and fundraising adjacent actions — can be, they’ll see they can do it too.
Assign Board Members 15-Minute At-Home Tasks
Follow up is critical. And there are lots of things nonprofits can encourage board members to do in 15 minutes each month.
1. Give Specific Assignments
For example, you might ask a board member to write three thank-you notes, make two thank-you phone calls, forward a few email invitations or appeals, handwrite notes on appeal letters or make a referral/introduction via email
2. Nudge Board Members
Have a staffer follow up promptly to support individual board members in fulfilling their agreed-to assignments, but do a progress check with each board member. Once the assignment is completed, thank board members for jobs well done and report back each board member’s outcome individually.
This doesn’t mean every time every single board member is going to be enthusiastic and willing to help, but it should improve the odds.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.