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[ASK AN EXPERT] Asking Board Members to Identify New Major Donor Prospects

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Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a fundraiser who is being pressured to ask board members to once again tap their networks.

Dear Charity Clairity,

We need new major donors, and my boss wants me to ask our board members to fill out a form at our next board meeting indicating names of folks they know who would be interested in our mission. I’m worried most of them won’t complete the form. Many have been on the board for years, and have already tapped their networks. What should we do to increase our odds of success?

Cautiously Pessimistic

Dear Cautiously Pessimistic,

I understand your concerns. A common problem, especially with long-term board members (big issue with boards lacking term limits), is folks tired of repeatedly being asked for the same thing. They essentially tune out because they think you don’t mean them, but other members who’ve not yet given you names.

Not to worry!  In practice I’ve found most people have more than one name they haven’t yet given you.  You just need to help them plumb their memory. For this reason, I’d suggest not asking folks to complete a form while sitting in a board meeting.

Instead, consider raising the issue at your board meeting (do you have a Board or Development Committee Chair who can bring this up?) but not asking them to fill out any type of form then and there.  I’ve found it’s more effective to let folks know you’ll shortly be contacting each of them personally for a call or visit to pick their brains.  Let them know it’s not about knowing rich people. It’s about knowing folks who might have an interest in what you do, and welcome the opportunity for meaningful engagement. 

It’s okay to start small and say you just want ONE name from everybody (though they shouldn’t hold back if they have two or three). Remind them that board members wear two gloves: (1) the governance glove of the board as a whole; (2) the financing glove of the individual board member. Wearing the board glove their responsibility is to make governance decisions (the “talk”). Wearing the member glove their responsibility is to act in a manner to assure the Board’s decisions are carried out (the “walk”). 

What if you walk on over to your board member and sit with them face-to-face? (Note: it’s okay to do this via Skype or Face Time). Help them to think through who they know.  Ask them what groups they belong to. Ideas include:

  • Friends
  • Family
  • Work colleagues
  • Congregation
  • Service club
  • Book club
  • Parent association
  • Community center
  • Service professionals they hire

Working in this manner should definitely increase your odds of success, and turn your outlook to cautiously optimistic.

Charity Clairity

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