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3 Strategies to Find a Fundraising Role for Every Board Member

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In Part 1 (Boards Need Staff to Support Scary Fundraising Role) of this two-part series about helping nonprofit board members overcome their fear of fundraising, we looked at reframing ‘yucky’ fundraising with ‘loving’ philanthropy. Since it’s the role of staff to step up to the plate to help donors understand how they can help, we spent time understanding the fullness of the pathway to passionate philanthropy, learning that the “ask” is just the pinnacle – final step – along the journey.

Unfortunately, too often we try to engage board members in fulfilling their fundraising role by pushing them to do the thing with which they’re most uncomfortable – asking.

Of course, we’d love to have them ask. And many will ultimately step up to the plate. But there are so many other ways they can help!

Before asking comes facilitating the ask.

In other words, before a donor is ready to be asked they must be identified… cultivated… inspired… and engaged. This aspect of a board member’s so-called ‘fundraising’ role is equally important to making the ask. In fact, it may be even more important.

Once someone has been identified, qualified, cultivated and taken to the point of readiness to be asked, the philanthropic opportunity should almost sell itself. At that point, almost anyone associated with your organization can ask. Your executive director. Your director of development. Your major gifts officer. Your board chair. Your development committee member. Any passionate, committed, comfortable volunteer. In fact, I try very hard not to assign a board member to make an ask that’s unlikely to be successful. Because, with success, comes comfort. And future willingness to ask.

Board members who agree to facilitate the ask fulfill a supremely important role!

So… today we’re going to look more closely at specific ways board members can facilitate getting to the point of readiness to make a philanthropic ask.

3 Ways Board Can Help Facilitate Philanthropy 

The best way model I’ve found is Kay Sprinkel Grace’s AAA Fundraising. She breaks a board member’s role down into three categories: Advocates, Ambassadors and Askers. I consider them three hats board members can wear. They can’t wear none of them. Ideally, you’ll help them get to the point where they’ll want to wear all three.

Every board member must support your organization’s fundraising. It’s part and parcel of their responsibility as a board member. If all they do is establish plans, budgets, programs and policies —without taking on responsibility to assure finances are in place to see those governance decisions through to fruition – then they’re essentially creating unfunded mandates. , and they go hand in hand. There is a fundraising role for each person on your board. And they can fulfill this role without ever asking for a dime. 

Let’s begin.

1. Ambassadors

An ambassador is someone who acts as a representative or promoter for your organization. Absolutely every single board member should accept this role!

Essentially, this role is word of mouth on steroids. Encourage your board to take every available opportunity to talk up your great work. You know, when they’re at family gatherings… cocktail parties… a meal out with friends… at their kids’ schools… at their place of worship… in their book group… at their place of employment… just about everywhere. Whenever someone asks the ubiquitous “what do you do?” saying “I volunteer with…” is a terrific answer!

There are, of course, specific ambassador assignments you can ask board members to take on. Give them a list, and let them indicate which ones they are most comfortable accepting. For example:

  • Share organizational messages via email and social media
  • Make thank-you calls
  • Write personal notes on appeal letters and invitations
  • Use personal networks to identify donor prospects
  • Provide prospect intelligence to help you better evaluate donor potential
  • Take donor prospects on a tour that lets your work speak for itself
  • Take donor prospects to coffee/tea or other type of ‘get to know you’ meeting
  • Open the door; set up a donor advice meeting
  • Cultivate a donor prospect at an event

I’ve found these assignments work wonders at getting board members comfortable with their fundraising role. Unlike asking, they’re fun. Board members get to talk to like-minded folks who share their values. People are appreciative, and that feels good.

Don’t forget: It’s your job to make these tasks easy. Give board members sample thank you notes and thank you call scripts. Give them a tour template. Coach them through a donor meeting. Here’s a free resource on thank you calls from Clarification to get you started.

2. Advocates

An advocate is someone who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy. This is also something most board members can do. Again, give them a list and let them indicate which ones they are most comfortable accepting. For example:

  • Represent the organization at public functions
  • Connect to opinion leaders who can influence others
  • Call or visit public officials to advocate on behalf of clients served
  • Call or visit public entities to advocate for government contracts, grants, fee-for-service or other monies
  • Circulate petitions to forward the cause
  • Visit businesses, foundations and community groups to introduce them to the cause
  • Recruit an in-kind service
  • Host a house party where staff or clients convey the mission; board member introduces and testifies

Once a board member agrees to take on a specific activity, meet with them right away to flesh out the details. Board members find it quite disconcerting when they volunteer to help; then no one takes them up on their offer.

You absolutely must give board members the ball before you can expect them to run with it! It’s unreasonable to expect them to simply hit the ground running when they’ve never done it before, and aren’t necessarily clear where the end zone is.

3. Askers

This is a term that needs no defining. What it needs is refining. It’s the job of staff and board leadership to reframe fundraising as philanthropy facilitating so board members can feel comfortable embracing this role. [Go back to Part 1 to refresh your memory.]

One great place to begin is to require 100% board giving – at a passionate level. What is passionate will differ for each person, but everyone serving on a board should make that organization among their priority philanthropies for the duration of their board service.

Boards lead. They must get in touch with their passion for your cause. They must enact their passion for your cause (by giving!). Once these steps have been taken, it’s not that difficult to move to the final step to invite others to enact their shared passions. There are a number of different types of donor prospects they can ask. Your job is to help them select those with which they’ll be most comfortable. For example:

  • Meet with people I know
  • Meet with people I don’t know
  • Testify (on a visit where someone else makes the ask)
  • Ask

Again, ultimately my goal is to get board members to become comfortable wearing all three hats. But sometimes they must be led there gently. Perhaps if not today they’ll be willing to help with the ask tomorrow, but the work of getting to that point should never be overlooked or diminished. It’s part and parcel of a board member’s ‘fundraising’ role.

Board Philanthropy Facilitation Action Plan

Now that we’ve covered three different ways board members can accept and embrace their fundraising role, it’s time to ask each board member to step up to the plate.

Hold your board members’ feet to the fire!

Here are some suggestions:

  • Ask every board member to complete a ‘Board Philanthropy Facilitation Action Plan.” Divide potential tasks into the different areas of ambassador, advocate and asker. Suggest strategies in each area. And ask each board member to check off those tasks in which they’re willing to become engaged.
  • After a board retreat, ask each board member to sign up personally for one or two of the critical fundraising-related jobs you may have brainstormed. Make sure someone follows up with them; don’t expect them to simply move forward without your nudge and support.
  • Make sure someone follows up with every single board member who agrees to help; clarify their intention and make a plan for them to follow through. This will ideally be a staff member, but can also be another board member (perhaps the board chair or a development committee member).
  • Make sure someone continues to follow up on each board member’s progress.
  • Record all completed tasks in your donor management software so you can continue to follow through, track and report on progress.
  • Report back to board members so they can see the fruits of their labor! If you ignore this important final step, board members won’t feel as good as they could, or should, about having helped.

Don’t Forget the Follow-Up Plan

The most overlooked part of engaging your board in fundraising is ensuring your staff debrief them and follow up appropriately. In fact, if you’re not going to do the follow up there’s little point in doing the activity.

There is nothing more important!

If a board member gives you the name of a prospect… helps you qualify a prospect by providing critical intel… hosts an event in their home… brings a prospect to an event hosted by you… or otherwise steps up to the plate as an ambassador or advocate, and no one follows up with the identified prospect or hosted guest, what have you gained?

Absolutely nothing.

In fact, when you fail to follow up you actually put yourself in a worse position than where you began.

  • Because your board member now feels uncomfortable at best, and like they wasted their social capital and time, at worst.
  • Also, your prospects feel uncomfortable at best, and thinks your organization is incompetent, at worst.

Prospects who are reached out to expect you did so for a purpose. 

When you don’t follow up with them, they feel confused. Did you not like them? Did you not think they could make a gift? What was wrong with them?

Specifically assign follow up tasks!

Here are some suggestions when you’ve invited prospects to a tour, open house, behind-the-scenes free event or offered complimentary tickets to a fundraiser:

  • Plan ahead to capture prospects’ contact information. Ideas include: having a sign-up sheet at the event; asking board members to forward contact information to you; holding a raffle where attendees write their contact info on a card and drop it into a receptacle. You can sometimes handle this as people check in at reception. Or you can have a follow-up card at check-out (or perhaps inserted into an event program) that gives folks the opportunity to fill in their contact info and check off possible interests.
  • Ask board members who invited prospects to attend to make follow-up phone calls. They might ask folks their impressions, or whether they have questions, or how else they might like to be involved.
  • Assign staff to make follow-up phone calls to thank guests for participating. 
  • Assign staff, or ask board members who made referrals, to send follow-up emails offering different engagement opportunities which may be of interest.
  • Develop a plan for how you’ll follow-up if you don’t hear back from prospects you’ve invited/contacted. Know how many times you’ll try to engage them before you give up.
  • Reach back out to board members who invited prospects to ask if they want to follow up further, or if they have any ideas regarding next steps.

I’m not going to lie. It’s better if staff takes charge of the follow up. Board members are busy, and this isn’t their day job. If you really want to reap the benefit of board member ambassadorship and advocacy, put in place your follow-up plan before you move forward. You’ll get more out of this if you put more into it.

Bottom Line: Fundraising is Servant to Philanthropy 

Fundraising is the means, not the end. It doesn’t stand on its own. But you do have to mean it! Because it helps you fulfill the values you seek to enact in the world.

That’s why you may need to begin with some reframing. Philanthropy, not fundraising. People love the concept of philanthropy. It’s fundraising they don’t like, because the word conjures up that evil money stuff, unpleasant feelings of being a beggar, and fears of rejection.

This year, help your board members understand their role as philanthropy facilitators. All they’re doing, really, is helping prospective donors accomplish something they’re already predisposed to want to accomplish. And if they’d prefer to do something else, no harm no foul.

People are generous. They want to help. They feel good about helping. Board members can facilitate the joy of giving by offering folks a chance to do something purposeful that aligns with their values and gives them a warm glow.

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  • Jason

    I love the idea of a Board Philanthropy Facilitation Action Plan. With enough info and tools, it should help empower them.
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