nonprofit leadership buy-in

So you’re shopping for a new donor database. Being the go-getter, development rock-star that you are, you researched different products. And then researched some more. You called sales reps, you did demos, you waded through proposals, and you dealt with more follow up emails than you could count.

Then, you organized a staff meeting to discuss your findings and make a recommendation.

And then your boss or your board went with a different product than what you suggested? Why would they do that?

Well, there could be several reasons; price, features, availability or even a prior relationship with a different vendor could play a role in the decision.

But there could be another reason, one that’s tough to consider. Maybe you didn’t do a good enough job championing your choice. You weren’t persuasive enough. You didn’t get nonprofit leadership buy-in on what your needs truly are.

Here are three steps you can take to get nonprofit leadership buy-in:

1. Get your facts straight, and be definitive.

Your ED or board members are going to want to hear how this will benefit them, largely through making them money or saving them money (or both). They aren’t going to convinced by how your chosen system will make you feel better or make your job easier.

Focus instead on how an improvement to your day to day processes will positively impact the organization’s bottom line. Tell them this new system will create efficiencies and free up more time to devote to relational fundraising, which leads to greater donor retention. If you’re moving from installed software to the cloud, explain how that will make your data more secure and protect you from staff turnover. Compare what you are paying now with what you will be paying with the new system, including staff time. Specific, hard data is paramount here.

2. Be Concise and Be Organized.  

I have had bosses tell me before that any email I send them, about anything, needs to be no longer than three sentences or they will not read it, and will not address it. A bit extreme perhaps, but it does illustrate that those in charge have a LOT on their minds and need you to get to the point quickly and clearly. They may want to help, but if you’re stumbling and rambling, their patience may evaporate and they will be thinking about the time you are wasting, and not on your solution.

3. Don’t Lose Your Passion!  

You are in fundraising for a reason, and you are in the development office where you are because you are passionate about that particular cause.

A good donor database should be exciting to you because it should enable you to focus in on donor retention and allow you to focus on fundraising and not on administration. A red flag might be that you aren’t excited about a potential vendor.

When you do recommend a product, you need to make sure the ED and/or board are aware of why you are excited about this particular software. I’ve had employees come to me and say, “well, I mean, I guess we could go with this because it might make our jobs a little easier.  So… yeah, that’d be good.”  Inspiring!

Lay out your case methodically, carefully, concisely and passionately. You believe that one software system is perfect for the organization because it will allow you to fundraise more effectively. Convey THAT.

Bloomerang hosted a webinar panel discussion with Jay Love and Sandy Rees where one participant asked about getting nonprofit leadership buy-in from board members:

Question: We want to make a decision on purchasing fundraising software, but are having trouble getting buy-in from our board. Do you have any tips?

Here are there answers:

Sandy: I think that the important thing to do is to talk about why you need it and the benefits. How it’s either going to save you time, save you money, help you deepen relationships or bring some other resource to the table.

I bet Jay, you’re in the same situation that I’m in. I have been the staff person, I have been the board member and I have been a consultant, so I have seen this from all three sides.

As a board member, I can tell you that I’m all about investing in the capacity of the organization. When our staff comes to the board table and they say, “Look, we need to buy this new software, here’s what it’s going to do for us, here’s why we need it and here’s what’s it’s going to cost.” That helps me make a good decision.

I think what could be going on for her, if you have board members who either don’t understand their role or they’re really scared and they’re just afraid to spend money because maybe they don’t want something bad happening on their watch. Then you really have got to take that into consideration and you got to show them how the decision is really going to help move that organization forward in a big way. That there’s going to be a return on investment of spending that money.

Jay: I think is just a matter of understanding. Through and through the board members are there because they care. Hopefully nobody’s got their arm twisted to be there under any sort duress.

If you take that care factor and multiply it out, it’s just a matter of presenting the case as Sandy was saying and doing that. If it’s something big though, I’m a huge believer of trying to be one-on-one with some of the board members in the weeks leading up to the board meeting or up to the online discussion or for the conference telephone call. If you can have an individual phone call or a face-to-face meeting and just discuss that particular item that they need to get buy-in on and let people ask questions on a one-on-one basis. If you can do that with what you think are the most influential people on the board before the meeting itself, that sometimes really paves the way for a successful meeting for that.

It’s also in some cases lead to something being tabled. You talk it over with a couple of key long term board members and those people have some very good questions that you’re not ready to answer or you don’t have good answers for, or it makes you pause and makes you think, “Well, maybe it’s not a good thing.” Then you may not even end up bringing it up in front of the entire board or in front of the entire executive committee, you vet it out enough to realize that maybe you’re not ready for that right now.

Sandy: I think that’s absolutely brilliant, to go ahead and talk to one board member first and get them on board sort of as a champion. If there is somebody on that board table who will speak up and say, “This is a good idea and here’s why think so.” I think they’re more board members who are likely to listen to that.

Jay: I had a situation happen that actually enticed a couple of questions together. One of the boards had the good fortune and privilege of being on, was trying to decide if they should invest more, ironically, their direct mail program. The Director of Development got myself and one other board member, we have the privilege of being the ones that have been there the longest number of terms and time period. We all went to lunch and discussed that, and asked a lot of good key questions. This person decided to do some more research and come back not to the next board meeting, but the meeting after that and had a very successful outcome at that point in time then.

Sandy: Awesome.

Remember, those in control ultimately want the same thing you do: for more money to come in to the organization which will help further your mission. If you communicate to them exactly how this system will do just that, how can they say no?

The Buyer's Guide to Fundraising Software

Ross Hendrickson

Ross Hendrickson

Co-Founder and CEO at Bloomerang
Ross Hendrickson is a co-founder and the CEO of Bloomerang. Prior to co-founding Bloomerang, he served as Product Manager for Bostech Corporation and later Avectra. Ross serves on the Horizon Council, the young professionals leadership council of the Indianapolis-based nonprofit Conner Prairie. He graduated with a B.S. in Economics & Engineering Science from Vanderbilt University.
Ross Hendrickson

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