(Photo via facebook.com/BackonMyFeetPhiladelphia)
Without fail, when I say to a fellow fundraiser, “What should I write about this month?” the answer is boards and fundraising.
Boards are an integral part of the fundraising process. Whether you’re just starting a nonprofit or are well-established, board member involvement in fundraising can make or break your annual goals.
Members are generally elected to a nonprofit board because they are committed to the mission and willing to share their time, talent and treasure with that organization.
- Time refers to attending board meetings, fundraisers and activities, participating on a committee, doing outreach, sharing the nonprofit’s message on social media or in person, and the many other ways board members dedicate their time to a nonprofit. Depending on the type of board (governing vs. working), time spent can vary from less than one hour to 20+ hours per week for each member of the board.
- Talent refers to the board member’s area of expertise. Many nonprofits seek board members from varied industries: human resources, legal, marketing, accounting, real estate, etc. The hope is that when a question arises that requires expertise, the board member(s) with that experience would be able to answer the question or provide resources and direction.
- Treasure refers to donations. Most boards have a give or get policy that encourages board members to aim for both a specific goal in personal giving and/or donations from their networks. Every board aims for 100 percent participation, which translates to a direct gift of any amount from every member.
As a development director or executive director, your role is to engage your board so that each member participates in whichever ways they are most comfortable and feels supported in their chosen role(s).
But as I’m sure you can imagine, this is a huge task, especially if your board doesn’t have a lot of fundraising experience.
Let’s say you have a board of 20 individuals from 20 different professions who all have little to no fundraising experience. When your annual fundraising event rolls around, you’re going to do a LOT of education and prep work with your board: describing who should be invited, teaching board members to identify sponsor targets in their networks, providing templates for email/phone outreach to potential supporters, and much more.
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And that doesn’t account for the rest of the year: cultivating relationships with foundations and corporations, annual appeals, major donor and capital campaigns, endowments, planned giving, social campaigns — the works.
Luckily, I have the privilege of having met and worked with many fundraisers over the years who know their stuff, so this month I’m a mere conduit for the vast knowledge of my peers. I asked my networks for the best piece of advice they have for both a fundraiser working with a board, and a board member on fundraising. And boy, did they deliver.
What’s the best piece of advice you have for a fundraiser on working with a board?
Liz Hefner, Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery and Delaware Counties: Always be inclusive of all that a board member gives to your organization when you meet with them. Be sure to acknowledge the tangibles and intangibles and allow that to inform the goals you set with each board member.
Josie Burri, Shipley School: My advice to a fundraiser who is working with a board is to have patience and to be persistent. Realize that the board member is a volunteer, and will need your support to carry through on any action items. Don’t offer to do it all for the board member, but do offer to do whatever it takes for the board member to complete the tasks that will get your organization closer to its goals. Be proactive in following up with the board member, and don’t worry about being a “nudge” — it’s your job!
"Realize that the board member is a volunteer, and will need your support to carry through on any action items."
Jory Barrad, theVillage: Provide your board members with good tools to support them when they speak with their friends and colleagues about your organization. A simple fact sheet that includes your organization’s mission, some key stats and outcomes can be super helpful when it comes to putting some data behind the more subjective reasons they have for supporting your organization.
Cathryn Sanderson, Back on My Feet: I hate committees just for having committees. I only build them when I need them, otherwise, I think they’re more work for everyone with little payoff. I like to work more individually with finding people’s times and talents — and most likely this has little to do with their day-to-day work.
I’ve had people evolve their talents and passion over the years as well, which has been an interesting challenge for me to stay current with what they are enjoying and where they find their most value. At the end of day this is all about value. What value are they bringing the organization and greater community through their involvement? And what value do they receive by being a part of the organization?
Susan Daily, Summer Camps at College Settlement: Recognize that you will have to inspire, organize, coordinate, train and assist your volunteers. Not everyone can or should be the “asker” — but everyone can do something. Remind the board that their passion for the mission is all they need to articulate — you can do the heavy lifting on transactional stuff.
Mark Manning: A large give/get requirement can dissuade talented people without a lot of financial resources from joining a board. A good way around that is to instead ask board members to make your nonprofit one of their top three priorities for donating and fundraising. If they can’t do that, they may not be a good fit for your board.
"You will have to inspire, organize, coordinate, train and assist your volunteers."
Kathy Meck, Free Library of Philadelphia: Be patient and take advantage of opportunities to educate. Fundraising is so much more than making the ask, and often times, board members don’t realize how much they can truly support the cycle of fundraising until they see a menu of options.
[Author’s note: Kathy developed a fantastic menu of options with specific tasks her board can engage in throughout the cycle of fundraising, with many, many non-ask tasks for folks who don’t want to ask for money. It’s an amazing tool; ask her about it.]
Lauren Wampler, Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers: Invest time in developing a relationship with at least one “fundraising champion” from your committee or board. This can help you learn what supports the board needs to fundraise effectively and the fundraising champion(s) can be a great source of peer to peer motivation for the rest of the board.
Steve Wasserleben, Angel Principle Consulting: Relationship build with board members like you do with individual donors. Get to know them, find out their interests, talents, concerns, etc. — these are you cues for greater board participation. Now you can help board members have maximum impact be it through their time, talent and/or treasures!
Deb D’Arcangelo, Council for Relationships: A fundraiser working with a board should follow the advice of the great community organizer Saul Alinsky and “meet them where they are.” This means supporting the board members based on their experience and comfort levels. If the board members have little experience and are uncomfortable with fundraising, ask them to attend events and prospective donor meetings to “serve as an ambassador” and tell prospective donors how the organization helps people.
On the other hand, if the board has a lot of experience, give them what they need and get out of the way — you’re a lucky fundraiser.
And what’s the best piece of advice you have for a board member on fundraising?
Wampler: Don’t allow fundraising be the last item on the agenda (at least not at every meeting!).
Barrad: Asking for donations and support is not “begging.” They are providing their friends and colleagues with the opportunity to give back and to make a difference. If they are not comfortable asking initially, give them the option to make phone calls and thank some of your donors. It’s an easy and painless way to become comfortable speaking with donors and can prep them for making the ask when they are more comfortable.
Wasserleben: Think about your talents and expertise — these are your gifts. Use your executive director or chief development officer as a conduit to put your personal gifts to work efficiently for maximum impact!
"The worst thing they can do is say no, and that would be their loss."
D’Arcangelo: Remember that when you’re fundraising you’re helping someone invest in an organization that changes people’s lives; it’s actually a gift to the donor. The worst thing they can do is say no, and that would be their loss.
Hefner: Be honest and have a heart of generosity. Share the areas where you can give generously, and share the ways that you would prefer to play a smaller role.
Daily: Remember why you chose this board and this organization for your time, talent and treasure. Trust your development professional to guide you through the process. Offer what you have to give, it will be enough.
Meck: Take advantage of opportunities to learn from staff and invite them to speak regularly at board meetings, such as a 10-minute training at the beginning of each meeting to address key fundraising topics, build skills, and involve members more deeply in upcoming fundraising initiatives.
Burri: Fundraising isn’t begging and it isn’t a zero-sum game, unless you let it be that. You are working to connect the potential funder (who is oftentimes a friend) to the organization’s mission, not to you per se. Really strive to maintain that distance so that you can do the best work for your charity.-30-
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