Often, the biggest obstacle to board fundraising is their fear of failure. Unless fundraising is part of their day job, they probably do not understand what will happen once they open the door. They may worry any request will feel transactional because they do not understand donor cultivation and stewardship.
You can turn your board members into fundraisers by explaining to them how and why fundraising works. Ask for 60 minutes during the next strategic planning session, carve out some time at an upcoming board meeting, or request a special training session to review the basics. Board members will be more willing to reach into their personal and professional networks to help raise funds for your nonprofit if they know your expectations and their role.
Once you get your board in the room:
Ask them to think about how they feel when they help others. Encourage them to give their peers that same opportunity to make a positive difference in the world by simply donating cash.
Review your case statement with them. Give them the answers to questions they might get asked so they have the confidence needed to request a meeting. Make sure they have easy access to information about your history, mission, budget, long and short-term needs, and expected outcomes. Most importantly, make sure they understand the consequences to your clients and community if the agency is not funded.
Explain their role is to make an introduction. People give to people they know when provided with a good opportunity. Let them know you need them to open the door and act as a third-party validator for the work of your nonprofit.
Share information on the different methods used to approach prospective donors. Let them know the varying success rates between face-to-face meetings, small group lunches, intimate cocktail parties, large events, telephone calls, letters, texts, and emails.
Explain your role so they know what types of support you can provide.
Give them details on all donor stewardship activities so they know how their friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and business associates will be thanked and appreciated.
Action items during the board meeting:
Take 5-10 minutes and ask each board member to think about why they joined the board and why they serve. Have them jot it down and share it aloud. Explain that their job, in a nutshell, is to share that story with others. Because they are volunteers, their word has more weight than anything staff could add. If they are uncomfortable and do not want to be the one to ask for funds, that task can be assigned to staff. The most important thing they can do is make an introduction and be willing to share their passion for the organization.
Ask them to make two lists. The first list should be 5-10 people (friends, family, local business owners, corporate representatives, etc.) they know personally who have the capacity to donate. The second should be a list of 5-10 people, they do not know personally, but believe have both reasons and means to support your organization.
Give them 5 minutes to email you the list of people they know, right now, during the meeting. Let them know you will follow up with each of them individually to review their list, provide any contact history, and develop a strategy for cultivation moving forward.
Chart on the wall the names suggested on the second list and ask the board to play a game of six-degrees of Kevin Bacon. Instead of discovering how many degrees any given person is to the movie star, the goal is to figure out who in the room has the closest connection to the prospective donor. Then, as a group, do some creative brainstorming to figure out how to make a connection. Most likely you will be able to create a solid list of next steps needed to develop new meaningful relationships. And, it’s a great way to get your board motivated and excited because they are working together to find a solution to your problem of how to identify approach new donors.
After the board meeting:
Immediately, and at least once a year, make an appointment with each board member to review their list of people they know (or add to it). Agree on a method of approach for each donor, determine the prospective donation amount, goal for when the contact will be made, and the preferred contact method for your direct follow-up with that board member monthly. Review any relevant items that came out of the board brainstorming session and plan for that as well.
Make an appointment with any board member who didn’t attend the meeting so you can provide the fundraising basics, ask if they can help with outreach to prospect list developed at the meeting, ask for their own list of 5-10 potential donors in their peer group, and determine out your outreach plan, and arrange your next point of contact with them.
As new board members are recruited, meet with them to review fundraising basics, and develop their cultivation list.
Help them figure out who they might know. Every board member should be able to identify at least 5 individuals, businesses, or corporations who they can introduce to your charity, but some of them might need help. If they did not email you a list ahead of time, ask them to share a little more about themselves so you can offer some suggestions.
If more than one board member has a relationship with a potential donor, work with them to discover who has the strongest relationship and ask that person to take the lead. The second board member can play a supportive role or step-in as needed.
Stay in touch with board members at least once a month and find out what kind of assistance they need to get to the next step. If they are not moving ahead try and discover the obstacle and then suggest some solutions. Always offer to help make their lives easier by offering suggested messaging, drafting emails and texts, providing talking points, or sharing client stories.
Ask them to get directly involved in donor stewardship. For those who do not have many contacts, ask them to send handwritten notes or make personal calls to thank higher level donors. If someone they helped cultivate becomes a donor, ask them to call or send a text. Find other creative and fun ways to involve them in the fundraising process.
Create a list of key performance indicators and make sure to share them with your board.
Thank your board often for their time, efforts, and energy.
Be creative and have fun!
Have you been successful in getting your board to raise money? What worked for you? Let us know in the comments below!
Rebecca Bahar-Cook is the CEO of Capitol Fundraising Associates. As such, she develops fundraising plans, recruits and researches new donors, executes fundraising events, develops direct mail programs including messaging, assists with the designing of solicitation materials, trains fundraising staff, works on board development, recruitment of fundraising committee members and organizes call-time programs.
Bahar-Cook enjoys teaching groups fundraising best practices and has provided training sessions to many statewide nonprofits, associations and candidate training organizations on topics including Board Recruitment and Fundraising, Where to Find New Donors, Fundraising Success – What Works, Tried and New Fundraising Techniques, and Why Corporations Give.