You can’t get board members to effectively ask for philanthropic gifts until they’ve made their own passionate gift.
Once your board member has acted on the passion they feel towards your cause, it’s time to talk with them about how to leverage their giving by asking others to join them.
But… somehow the mere suggestion of asking for a gift puts people in a state of paralysis. Almost nothing that comes out of your mouth following the words “ask for money” is heard. Board members become frozen with fear.
There is, however, a fairly easy way around this.
- You simply replace “asking for money” with the concept of “offering a joyful opportunity to find meaning and purpose.”
- You reframe doing something to people with doing something for people.
- You transform the notion of begging with that of sharing.
To help board embrace their fundraising role I like to share an analogy to remind them why fundraising is a profoundly virtuous endeavor, rather than a “necessary evil.”
Why Board Members Should Ask Others to Join them in Giving
I often ask folks if they share a favorite restaurant or movie with their friends. Of course they do! Then I ask if they feel ‘rejected’ if their friend says “Oh, that sounds great but I don’t really like Thai food… horror movies… etc. Of course they don’t! So then I ask them: “Do you love your organization?” Of course they do! [Note: Board members shouldn’t join boards for causes they don’t love. If you’ve got board members who are apathetic about your mission, you’ve got a different problem.]
Then comes the kicker question:
“Why are you being so stingy with the charity you love?!”
Generally, it’s because no one has ever asked them this question or shown them ways they can comfortably and effectively share their passion.
4 Strategies to Leverage Nonprofit Board Giving to Inspire Greater Board Getting
All of these strategies are important if you want to develop a truly passionate fundraising board. These strategies are your job. Most board members are willing to help; they just need to be shown the way and given a little hand-holding along the journey.
1. Show Board Members How to Share Their Passion
It’s important to stress:
- Everyone needs to help.
- There’s no one right way to help.
There are options. Different strokes for different folks.
It’s a good idea to include some of these ways in your board job description. Make sure every member has a copy of it, and that you ask them annually which ways they’d like to be actively involved this year.
Ideally sit down with each member and build a personal fundraising (aka “passion sharing”) plan with them. Ask them to commit in writing to how they’ll support fundraising. Research shows we’re likelier to follow through on commitments if they’re in writing and shared with others.
I like to divide tasks between:
You can suggest a number of specific ways they’d like to be involved.
This “Triple A” fundraising paradigm was developed by my mentor and fundraising guru Kay Sprinkel Grace; it works like gangbusters to help board members become comfortable and confident in their important leadership role. We sometimes forget the actual moment of asking is one small step in a process of building and sustaining donor relationships. Everyone can easily step into the ambassador role. And with a little coaching and support from you, they should soon feel confident as advocates and askers as well.
2. Offer Ongoing Support as Board Assume Their Fundraising Role
Your job is to take away the fear and replace it with joy.
Because too often fundraising is framed as being about money, not loving outcomes, folks are scared to death to go near it. As another of my fundraising mentors and founder of The Fundraising School, Hank Rosso, said: “Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” Fundraising is joyful when fundraisers are partners in creating positive outcomes.
Most people get more joy out of doing something as part of a collective effort, rather than being left to their own devices. So make sure board members have clarity on their assignments. Give them deadlines and measurements to increase accountability.
Be sure to periodically check in with them to see how they’re progressing with what they agreed to do. And don’t forget to ask “How can I help?” If you want to inspire and engage your board in year-end fundraising, you absolutely have to communicate with them regularly. Only when you show you mean it will they be empowered to mean it as well.
3. Help Folks Stretch; Don’t Force Them to Do What They Abhor
Helping folks out of their comfort zone can be a great thing, as it helps people learn new skills and gain self-confidence.
But you don’t want to compel people to do things they really hate. Or things they’re just not ready for. As noted above, there’s no one right way to help.
There’s one great way I’ve found to ease folks into stretching, and I’ve borrowed it from fundraising gurus Andrea Kihlstedt and Brian Saber who developed the ‘Asking Styles’ paradigm. In “Asking Styles” Brian Saber reveals there are many different ways to ask and be effective.
- Rainmaker – analytic; extrovert
- Go-Getter – intuitive; extrovert
- Mission Controller – analytic; introvert
- Kindred Spirit – intuitive; introvert
Your board member’s personal asking style will impact how they approach their fundraising role. You need to understand their style in order to help them do what’s most comfortable for them – or they won’t do it! [TIP: Have board members take the free Asking Styles assessment and share the results with you. It takes just three minutes.]
4. Play to Board Member Strengths
Everyone is different. This should come as no surprise to you. Yet too often we expect everyone to ask the same way. In my humble opinion this is one of the main reasons people fear fundraising. It feels unnatural to them. Like they’re reading someone else’s script.
It’s fine to arm folks with a sample script, but… you must tell folks the most important thing isn’t what they say but how they say it.
Whenever I conduct board fundraising workshops I always tell folks their own passion will be the key thing that makes them successful. Passion is contagious. No trickery or sleazy sales techniques involved. You can be an introvert, an extrovert or somewhere in between and still find your passion. What you can’t do is be something you’re not.
So… help board members get in touch with their personal passions. Remind them what they value, and how their values align with the values your organization enacts. Ask them to act on their passion, then share that passion actively with others.
In the next article in this three-part board giving and getting series we’ll review how to set your board up for success and what to do when board members refuse to share.