Few things are more critical to your nonprofits health, success and sustainability than an effective board of directors.

Rachel Muir, CFRE recently joined us for a webinar in which she shared tips and tools to get board members willing to engage and share their contacts, gifts and time.

In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Rachel, is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially? I’ve got 1:00 Eastern here.

Rachel: Absolutely.

Steven: All right. Great. Well, good afternoon everyone if you’re on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s webinar, “Why Fundraising is the F Word to Your Board Members and How to Fix It.” And My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

Just before we begin, I just want to go over a couple housekeeping items for you. I just want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation. I’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides a little later on this afternoon. So look for those from me. We’ll definitely be sending those things out. If you have to leave early or if you perhaps want to watch the content again or share it with a friend or a coworker, you’ll be able to do that. Just look for an email from me a little later on.

As you’re listening today, please feel free to use the chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. If you have questions or comments, we’d love to see those throughout the next hour or so. We’ll try to answer just as many as we can before the 2:00 Eastern hour.

If this is your first webinar with us, welcome. We’re so glad you’re here. We do do these webinars just about every Thursday. But that’s not all we do at Bloomerang. In fact, our core business is donor management software.

So if that’s something you’re interested in or perhaps going to be looking at switching to or buying sometime in the future, we’d love for you to check out Bloomerang. You can even download a quick video demo. You don’t even have to talk to a sales person if you don’t want to. Who likes to do that? So check us out if you’re interested in that. That’s the end of that little commercial.

I want to go ahead and introduce today’s guests, one of my favorite people, Rachel Muir. Hey, how’s it going, Rachel?

Rachel: Hey. It’s so great to be here with you.

Steven: I’m excited to have you. It’s always a treat to have you on our webinars. You’re one of our fan favorites. We just had to have you back in before the end of the year. Before I let you get us started Rachel, I just want to talk about you for a little bit.

Just in case you folks don’t know Rachel, she’s definitely someone that you need to know. She’s got her CFRE. She’s the VP of Training over at Pursuant, which is a really great agency. They’re kind of our recommended large consultancy. So check them out. Her role over there, she helps transform individuals into confident and successful fundraisers. She’s head of training over there, puts on lots of great presentations, webinars, speeches, all that good stuff.

When she was 26, she launched her own nonprofit called Girlstart, which is an organization that empowers girls in math, science, engineering and technology. She started that organization in her living room with just $500 and a credit card. She grew that organization to over $10 million. She’s been featured on Oprah, CNN, Today Show. She’s spoken at way too many conferences to even count. She’s not just someone who gives advice. She’s actually done all the things that she’s going to talk about today. That’s probably why she’s the VP of Training over there.

Rachel, I’m just super excited to hear this presentation. So I’m going to pipe down and I’ll let you take it away, my friend.

Rachel: Thank you so much, Steven. Thank you so much. I’m so excited to be here today. This is such a great topic. I want to thank everybody for tuning in and joining Steven and I today. We’re going to talk about “Why Fundraising is the F Word to Your Board,” and I’m going to give you lots of ways to fix it.

So I’ve got tips and tricks in here for inspiring your board to fundraise, all great things they can do without doing a face-to-face ask and how you can get rid of dead weight and make your board meetings better too. So I’ve been in your shoes, as Steven said, starting and running a nonprofit organization that I ran for 12 years. We had many iterations of our board. So I feel your pain and I know it firsthand. It makes me really excited to get here with you today and get to spend this time with you. So thanks everybody for joining us and welcome. We’re super excited to have you.

If you’re tweeting today, here’s my handle and Bloomerang’s handle and Pursuant’s as well if you want to join the conversation. Everybody is going to get a copy of the presentation as well as the recording. We’re super excited to have you here today. So thanks again.

I appreciate the fantastic introduction, Steven. That’s a little bit about me. I absolutely love helping people be better fundraisers. I feel like there is no profession more meaningful or honorable than fundraising, getting the chance to be with another person and bring them opportunities to make the world a better place and giving people opportunities to be significant and have a lasting impact are just really, I don’t think life could be more meaningful.

I don’t think there’s a profession more honorable or important than fundraising. So kudos to all the great fundraisers that are on the call today. Thank you for your important work and for being out there on the frontlines, making the world a better place. Steven and I are super grateful to you and super grateful to get to be in the space with you.

This is a little bit about what we’re going to talk about today. I’m going to kick things off by, I’m actually going to ask you guys a few questions and we’re going to use the chat to learn more about you. And then we’re going to talk about what great board members do differently, why your board members might not be raising money right now and how to fix that.

I’m going to give you some tips to help them overcome their fundraising fears and I’m also going to talk with you, I’m going to outline ten ways that your board members can support fundraising in your organization without ever making an ask. I’m going to give you guys some tips for helping board members have graceful exits and then I’m also going to give you some tips to just make your board meetings better.

So I’ve got lots of goodies for you. Here’s the first goodie that I want to bring to your attention. This is a free download. I encourage you . . . I really feel like most of the challenges that we have with our boards not fundraising are rooted in them not having clear expectations of what the fundraising role is that they’re expected to play within our organizations.

So I feel like that’s the first thing that kind of goes off the rails when it comes to our boards. The best way to address that is with a great board contract. This is a really comprehensive sample board contract template that you can download. You can customize it to your own needs. But it covers every different variety of fundraising that a board member might do for your organization. So I encourage you to check that out.

Another great resource that you can download today is this guide that I wrote to building your board. That’s at Pursuant.com/BoardGuide. It’s loaded with a lot of tips and a lot of tools to help you build your board. So those are just a few things I want to point out to you. Those are free and you can download those right there.

I also do training. I do custom training. I’ve got an upcoming webinar series on major gift fundraising if you want to kick the year off right with some great building a major gift portfolio, enhancing a major gift portfolio, optimizing a major gift portfolio. This is a great webinar series that’s going to be kicking off in January and I’d love to have you if that is something that can benefit you.

Now, I would like to hear from you guys. I want to invite you to use the chat box. It’s that very first tab in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen. I want to invite you to . . . I’m curious to learn about how you feel your board is doing. So I’ve got three different options here, green, yellow or red. Type into the chat if your board, green is a healthy, thriving, great board. Yellow is it could some fine tuning. Red is, “Oh my gosh, we need some help.” So are you green, yellow or red?

I’ve got lots of yellows that are getting typed in, many, many yellows. I would say the vast majority of people on the call today are yellow. I’ve got some variations in color. I’ve got some yellow-red. “Sometimes green,” says Julia. “Yellow approaching green,” yay, Stephanie. It sounds like things are getting back on track. And then I’ve got a consultant who typed in and said the board PCs are almost all yellow. But the vast majority, like about 90% of you guys are yellow. So that’s good. That’s really good to hear.

I’m curious to ask you for the nonprofits in the room today if you provide board training. So I’ve got, let’s just say like annually sometimes or not often. So maybe you do it once a year, type in annually if you do it once a year, maybe every other year. I’m curious to get a pulse on how regularly people are doing board training. Someone asked, “On fundraising?” Really, that’s a great question. Yeah, if you do a board training on fundraising. So most people are saying not often, a couple annually, but most people are not doing training. Okay. Great.

Well, I want to tell you you’re going to get a lot of great tips today on how to empower your boards. I am a big fan and I’m not just saying this because I’m a trainer, but I’m telling you this from my own life in the trenches. I’ve always had the greatest success when I brought in outside counsel to train my board.

If there’s any way that I can support you in that, I’m super happy to help you. But you will get some great stuff today that you could take back. I’ve got some recommended reading at the end of today’s webinar as well, great resources for you to use with your board. Sometimes it’s hard for organizations to train their boards themselves.

So I encourage you to think about how you can get expertise to do that. Maybe it’s sharing expertise with another organization or swapping with another organization if you don’t have the resources to hire counsel, maybe you can have a great fundraiser from one organization work with your board and you work their board if you don’t have a budget for it. But training is great and you’re going to get lots of tips today.

So the first thing I really want to just acknowledge for everybody joining us today on the call is that building an A-team for your board of directors is seriously hard work. This is one of the most challenging, demanding and important roles that an executive director and development director have, is really building an A-team for their board of directors.

If you’re feeling frustrated right now, you’re not alone. Most of the people on this call identified their board functionality as being a bit on the yield sign, being a shade of yellow as opposed to green. This might be you. There might be a tension and a tug of war where you might have board members who feel like, “Hey, it’s your job to do the fundraising and I just tell you who to go ask.”

Or they might feel like, “Hey, I wasn’t told I’d have to fundraise, I’m not going to do that.” Or this is one of my favorites, “I’m giving you my time, Rachel, and that’s worth a lot of money.” You might hear that from board members, especially if their line of work is a billable hour. Well, that’s great that they’re giving us their time, but we need more than their time. We need their financial resources as well.

Every board member needs to be giving of themselves with a financial contribution as well as with their commitment to the board. And then you, you might find yourself over here on the opposite side of this tug of war where you feel like you’re doing all the work and the board is literally rubber stamping it or the board is demanding entirely too much time and entirely too many resources. If you’re feeling like that, you’re definitely not alone.

The thing I want everyone to know is there is no such thing as an allergy to fundraising. No one is allergic to fundraising. And there’s a role for every board member to play in fundraising, no matter how allergic they claim they are. There are many things that they can do to dramatically support fundraising within the organization that don’t involve them doing an ask. We’re going to talk a lot about that today.

So this incredible woman right here does not constitute a fundraising strategy. Just like hope is not a fundraising strategy, asking Oprah is also not a fundraising strategy. I’m going to talk with you guys about what great boards do differently. There are some things that we know from great, fantastic, high-functioning thriving boards and these are great things that you can identify, “Does our board do this and how can we get them more engaged?”

So this is what a great board member looks like. They hold themselves and the organization accountable. They are passionate about the mission. They open doors to other donors and they give of themselves, both with their time as well as with their financial contributions. They focus on the mission. They see the big picture. They aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions. They aren’t afraid to go there and ask the difficult questions that often need to be asked. This is what a great board member looks like.

But all too often, it looks more like fundraising, you might as well have just dropped a cuss word. It’s just something they don’t like. They don’t want to do it. They’re totally averse to it. They’ve got pre-conceived ideas. A lot of times what I see with board members that are averse to fundraising is they take their own preferences and their own dislikes and they project that and think, “Well, if I don’t like direct mail, nobody likes direct mail.” Or, “I don’t like face-to-face fundraising, so no one likes face-to-face fundraising.” So we’re going to clear up a lot of those misconceptions.

One of the most important things that I like to make really, really clear to a board is you can’t ever project your own personal preferences or ideas onto other people. Being asked is a joyous experience. You’re giving a donor an opportunity to make the world a better place and to be significant. It says a lot to invite someone into that opportunity. So you can never project your own fears.

I mentioned this earlier, but I feel at the root of everything, this isn’t real life. This is a movie set. So if anyone is seeing this image and going, “What?” that is a movie set. It’s not real. But I do really do believe it’s the unclear expectations when board members are recruited that cause them to struggle so much. I really feel that’s about the number one reason why a lot of board members aren’t successful with their fundraising.

For whatever reason, it wasn’t clear in the recruitment process that this was an expectation of their service. Maybe it got minimized because you really wanted that board member and you were willing to do just about anything to get that big name person on your board. Maybe it got minimized because a board member who was averse to fundraising or afraid of fundraising recruited that board member.

They weren’t up front about the expectations. I really feel like nine times out of ten, the failure comes from the board member not being clearly educated about what the role and responsibility was.

And I see a question that’s come in. I’ve reserved some time at the end for questions. So at any point during today’s webinar, if you’ve got a question, feel free to type it into the questions box and I will absolutely make sure and get the answered in the time that we have at the end of the webinar today. But thank you for asking that. I will definitely make sure to answer that.

So unclear expectations are definitely a path to failure. And it’s important to think about what is your invitation to fundraising. Because if you’ve got a board member who it wasn’t made clear to them, they didn’t realize this was going to be their role and then it’s being brought up, their responsibility to fundraise, they might feel berated. They might feel animosity. They might have a negative association how they’re being invited to be involved in fundraising.

If it feels like some browbeating, then they might have a pretty negative response to it and it’s kind of fueling this negative interaction with your board. So think about how were the expectations made when they came in and how are we inviting them to be a part of this. Does this feel like something they want to be involved in?

So the expectation that they’re going to be fundraising needs to be very clear in the board recruitment process. It needs to be specified in the board contract and it needs to be discussed in your board orientation. All three of those areas, so, they can read it right there in the board contract. It’s talked about when you’re recruiting them. When you and your board chair are sitting down to give them a board orientation, you’re talking about fundraising and you’re talking about the role that they have as fundraisers.

So I mentioned this earlier and if you joined us late, you can download this sample board contract at Pursuant.com/BoardContract. As I mentioned earlier, what I did when I worked on this was I thought about what are all of the things, like the huge laundry list of all the ways that you might ask your board to fundraise?

So when you download this, this is going to be long. It’s going to have like five different ways that they might be involved in fundraising and like five different ways that they’re going to be supporting fundraising. That’s there for a reason. That’s absolutely there for a reason because all of these things matter.

Them buying a table at your gala, them having a company buy a company at your gala, them making a planned gift and naming you in their will, them making a stretch gift, them funding a scholarship, all of these different areas, the more detailed you are able to be and how they’re supporting your organization through fundraising, the more they’re going to commit to.

You want that in writing. You want that really clear and really up front, all the ways that they’re going to support you, whether giving themselves, supporting you on ask, there’s a reason why it’s really detailed. I encourage you to be extremely detailed and give people a variety of different options. It shows them the vast universe of how they can support fundraising. So it’s long and it’s lengthy for a reason, but you can definitely customize it based on what works for you.

So let’s talk about why your board members might be feeling afraid of fundraising. They might feel like it’s going to feel like this guy. It’s going to feel like begging. They might have the wrong frame of reference. They might be coming from a place where they think of fundraising or giving as a scarce resource. They might incorrectly believe that if they ask someone to give to one thing that person won’t give to something else. That’s not true. I want to say especially as we approach this election year, just because a donor gives to one organization doesn’t meant they’re not going to give to other organizations too.

Granted, when it comes to major gift fundraising, capital campaign gifts, you might have a donor who makes a very significant gift and they’re paying out a really big pledge and them paying out that pledge means that they need to structure their giving wisely to you to accommodate that. But for most other giving, that isn’t the case. We know from research that’s been done on donors, political donors, that these are donors who give generously during an election year and they give to the political causes they support and they give to other causes as well.

So I think this is really just a mentality thing. We as fundraisers choose to believe in a world of abundance. We can’t go to a place where we think about scarcity because we don’t have to look any further than the ALS challenge to really see there is much to be given and there is much to be had. They might feel like they’re going to be put on the spot and they’re afraid of that and they’re not prepared for that.

So really talking them through having them go on a visit with you and just observe and just watch and then maybe their only role on that visit is to talk about their own gift and how they made that decision to make their own gift and how they thought about it and why it was important to them and why it was significant to them. They might just be afraid of rejection. They might be afraid the donor is going to say no and that they’re going to feel like they failed. So it’s important to understand why they’re afraid and address those reasons in a way that builds their confidence. We want to set them up for fundraising success.

So I want to share, and this is something you can steal and you can have this be your next ice breaker for your next board meeting. I challenge you to have this be your next ice breaker for your next board meeting.

So how fundraising is like proposing. The first way is you don’t propose, for everyone who’s proposed on the webinar today, they’re not a complete stranger. Steven, did not propose marriage to a complete stranger when he popped the question. Am I right, Steven? You kind of knew her, right?

Steven: Pretty much.

Rachel: This is not a complete stranger. This isn’t like a stranger off the street. You know this person. When you’re cultivating a relationship with a donor, this is someone that you know. The other important way that fundraising is like proposing is, and I’m sure Steven totally killed it and did a great job with his ask, but the important thing to tell your board is that the way you phrase the question does not determine the answer. What determines the answer is how you cultivated the relationship.

That’s the final way that fundraising is like proposing. It’s how you cultivated the relationship that influences the answer. You can be creative and romantic. I’m sure you want it to be something that’s totally memorable that you never forget. But it isn’t the words that you spit out of your mouth that determines whether the donor will say yes. It’s how you cultivated that relationship.

What people get the most afraid and I think board members can feel the most mystified and stressed out about the ask itself, the ask is the easy part. It’s actually getting the visit that’s hard. The ask is the easy part. If you cultivated your donor, they’re like ripe fruit that’s literally falling off the tree. The ask is the easy part. There are so many great discovery questions that you can ask so you’re walking into that station extremely well prepared, questions like, “How do you like to be invited to make a gift?” is a great question.

But that’s how fundraising is like proposing. So I encourage you to steal that. Use that as an ice breaker at your next board meeting, just to give your board members some baby steps and seeing, “Fundraising, this is really relationship building.” I have experiences in my life that inform me to understand what fundraising is like.

So here are some fundraising truths that are important for them to member as well. I mentioned ALS. The word is full of generous people who want to give. These people refuse to accept the troubled world as it is and they want to make it better. The world is full of them. They don’t have to look any further than the ALS challenge to be reminded of that.

Most of the ask is what leads up to it, 95% of the ask is what leads up to it. You can actually get the visit if you’re cultivating a donor and you can get a face-to-face visit, there’s an 85% likelihood that they will make a gift. So know that the tough part is actually getting the visit. The ask part, if done right, if the relationship is cultivated well, I stress that if the relationship is cultivated well, the ask is really the easy part.

Giving feels great. It’s a joyous experience. People who give statistically are happier than people that don’t give. Giving feels amazing. Being asked makes donors feel great. I remember the first time that I was invited to make a major gift. I was like, “Wow. These people really think I have my stuff together.” I was super flattered.

So it’s important to remember that being asked makes donors feel important. It really makes you feel important. I’m going to talk about this a little bit later. It really make you feel important when a board member is involved. They’re just volunteers.

Make no mistake, our donors are smart people. They know that we’re getting paid. They know this is our job. That’s totally fine. But it makes it really special when it comes to a volunteer board member who’s involved in supporting fundraising because they know that they’re doing this purely out of the goodness of their heart and not because it’s their job. And finally, it’s important to remember that you’re just trying to help and make the world a better place.

So these are some ways that board members can fundraise without making an ask. So here are three ways they can do this right off the bat.

Number one, give personally, absolutely, not negotiable. Every board member must give. Calling donors to thank them. This is a great way to start significantly improving your board members confidence speaking to donors. They don’t have to see them as like, “Who are those scary people? I’m afraid to talk to them?” Calling them on the phone just to say thanks is a great way to start wading your donors into philanthropy and wading them into fundraising and making them feel great.

What is that donor going to say when your board member calls them on the phone? They’re going to say, “Oh my gosh, thank you for calling me. It’s so great to hear from you.” The donor is going to be really, really touched because these are volunteers. They’re not paid to do this. That doesn’t mean I don’t want everyone that’s on the call to still call their donors and thank them, because I do, but it’s really special when you hear from an actual volunteer board member.

The third way is they can name your organization in their will or estate plan. This a great opportunity. I don’t think that is actually in that board contract. So if it isn’t, add that in there. That’s a great way for them to make a gift to your organization. And once they have, then they can talk about that, then congratulations because you’ve got a board member recruit who can talk to other donors about how great it felt to name the organization in their estate plan. So that’s another tip for you.

Now, I want to stress this because, A, I love cute photos of cats, but B, if there’s anyone on the call today who has board members who aren’t giving, this is really important. You can’t ask someone else to give if you haven’t given of yourself. So some ways that I would encourage you if you don’t have a 100% board participation, here are PC ways that you can address this.

Number one, you can tell your board that you’re submitting a grant application and that this grant, in order for these trustees to consider this grant request that you’re making, you have to have 100% board participation. This is true, especially if you’ve ever written a capital campaign grant, you have to have 100% board participation.

But another way to stress this to them, as they step into philanthropy and as they step into the role of cultivating donors, you never want to be in a position where a donor can ask, “Tell me about your own giving,” and they say, “I haven’t given but I give very generously of my time.” No. Absolutely not. Everyone has to make their own gift. This is fundamental. I also encourage you to invite staff to make their own gifts to the organization. Everyone has a role to play in supporting fundraising.

So when I talk about board members contacting donors and thanking them, this is a super easy win because it really boosts their confidence. I’m going to show you some research from Penelope Burk because Penelope Burk has studied this. So this is the impact on giving amounts. In this particular study that Penelope did. Penelope, if you don’t know her, she’s the author of “Donor-Centered Fundraising,” a must-read. I really consider it the Bible of fundraising. It’s a great book and if you don’t have it, you should add it to your fundraising library. I’ve got some great books towards the end here that I’m going to recommend to you that are specific to boards, but that’s a great book overall on fundraising.

So in this research project that Penelope did, she does a pretty comprehensive research project every year in addition to being a prolific writer. Her surveys are a very large population size of donors and nonprofits. In this particular study that she did, the board members called to thank the donors within 24 hours of receiving the gift. Now, that is not going to be realistic for every single . . . the name of the book, Stacy, is “Donor-Centered Fundraising.” And it’s Penelope Burk, “Donor-Centered Fundraising.”

Now, many of you on the call are probably thinking, “Oh my gosh, there is no way that I could get board members to call and thank donors within 24 hours.” That’s fine. Maybe it takes a few days, maybe it takes a week, maybe it takes a few weeks. That’s fine. I’m just telling you for the sake of honesty, in this particular research study, they got a call within 24 hours.

Getting a call is what matters here. You want to be as timely as you can, but it’s getting the call from the board member that matters. Those donors who got a thank you call from a board member within 24 hours gave 39% more. So their gifts increased dramatically.

Fourteen months later, they were still giving and they were giving 42% more 14 months later. Seventy percent of them stayed with the organization as donors. They had 70% retention. So that’s really great. This alone, just this slide, share this research from Penelope. This is a very, very inspiring call to action for board members to be involved in thanking donors.

A few ways that you can do this to make it easy on yourself, when you have your monthly board meetings or bi-monthly board meetings, show up at the board meetings with the names of the donors, the phone numbers, the gift, a sample thank you script for your introverted board members, maybe a discovery question or two.

In the event they get them on the phone, they can ask them a couple of discovery questions. So come prepared and give them that, give them the tools they have to be successful. Make a little five-minute thank-a-thon. Give each board member like three names. You can have them spread out in the office, go in different rooms to do this.

But this is a great way to get them up, get them moving around and get them calling and thanking their donors. This is huge. I guarantee there are going to be many donors that they call and they’re going to say, “Oh my gosh, I’ve never gotten a thank you call from a board member before. This is going to be something special.”

This is the impact on retention of a thank you call, also from Penelope’s research, 10% more likely to stay if it was a call from a staff member, 25% more if it was a thank you call from a board member. Now, I don’t want you guys to read that and thank, “Oh my gosh, I’m just going to have board members make thank you calls and I’m not going to have that be a staff responsibility anymore,” because I want everybody to call and thank the donor. I want the staff member to call and thank the donor and I want board members too.

But this is just to illustrate how important it is. It goes back to what I said earlier. This is important and meaningful because your donors know that these people are volunteers. They know that they’re not paid members. That’s something special that they’re going out of their way to volunteer to call and say thanks.

Here are some more tips. Inviting guests for a tour of the organization. They pick. They pick, “Hey, these are ten people that I would love to bring into the organization and give them a behind the scenes tour.” That is a great opportunity for them, you can call this friend raising, to invite key people in their network to get a private tour of the organization and have that board member there when you’re having that tour.

Host a cultivation event in their home. They can open up their beautiful home. Donors can talk about why they serve, why they’re a volunteer, why they gave. This is important and meaningful and impactful for donors to hear. So hosting a cultivation event in their home is a great way for them to be involved in fundraising without doing a face-to-face ask themselves.

Also, be assigned a small portfolio. I would say three is good. Three is a good start. Three is a manageable number for a board member to take on and cultivate. They could be assigned two to three donors. These are just donors that they are calling on them. Maybe they’re writing them notes. They’re writing them a thank you note for their gift. They’re calling them.

They’re having a discovery call to learn more about what that donor cares about. They don’t have to be in the same city but they can be in the same city. Maybe if you’re an organization that’s spread out all over, you give your board members donors that are in their community and they try to get a little bit of face time taking that donor out for coffee, visiting with that donor.

Sharing more about the information about that donor’s gift at work with them so that they feel they’re a part of the organization. Even if they invite them to events and that donor doesn’t come to the event, the invitation is the cultivation. When it comes to fundraising, the invitation is the cultivation. That’s especially a powerful invitation when it comes from a board member.

These are some great discovery questions. What inspired their first gift? What causes do they care about? Why does our cause matter to them? I love what was the best gift they ever gave and why and I love asking that question because it tells me how they want to be stewarded. One of my former colleagues, Liz Dunright, her favorite question, her favorite discovery question is what do they love about what they do?

I think that is such a fantastic question because they could answer that any way. They could go all over the map answering that and you’re going to learn whatever they come back and answer it with is going to give you a lot of insight into what their priorities are. So that’s a really great one. Those are just a few.

These are some more great suggestions. These are from another person that Steven and I adore, Lori Jacobwith. Taking on a project to raise awareness of the organization. That’s a great project for a board member to have that absolutely supports fundraising. Sharing how money makes an impact at the organization. Maybe they talk about a particular project, maybe they trace the journey of a dollar and the life cycle of a dollar in the organization and how it makes a difference and what it supports and how it gets broken down.

This is great stuff that they can train other board members, they can share this information with other board members. This really empowers them to speak confidently and with authority to donors. Give them the job of going out and recruiting some testimonials from clients and then sharing that at a board meeting. I think a lot of times I’m a pretty high achieving person. I’ve been called an overachiever.

One of the biggest struggles I had with my board of directors was getting them to do the work and not doing it for them and then handing it to them all nice and pretty with a big bow on it. Them going out and getting client testimonials, them learning how money makes an impact in the organization, that’s really them getting the skin in the game and then rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty. It makes them an owner and it really increases their personal responsibility within the organization. That’s why these suggestions from Lori are so fantastic.

And then finally another one is writing an article on why the organization is important to them. That could be great. That could be why the organization is important to them, why they serve, why they volunteer, why they chose to name the organization in their will. These are all great things that they can do. Then they’ll be ready to talk about their gift and why they made their gift when the time is right for them to share that with a donor. So that’s some great advice. There you go. You’ve got ten ways that board members can support fundraising without ever making a face-to-face ask themselves.

Now, I’m going to talk with you a little bit about how to support this from an ongoing perspective and how to improve your board meetings as well. So you want to praise and recognize your board for being superheroes. The more praise, we want to reward assists as much as points scored.

So the more that you praise and recognize them, the better they’re going to feel, the more they’re going to be ready to take on that next task to support you in your fundraising. So I encourage you to praise and recognize them for this work because that’s going to be important and motivating to them.

And then I encourage you, these are a little bit of some deeper things for you to think about. Ask yourself, “How am I doing with my board? Have I made the expectations clear? Am I showing the board how they can be involved in holding them accountable? Is serving meaningful for them? Is board participation meaningful? Are we giving them ownage to let them know and own the successes of the organization? Are they assessing their own performance?

That’s a great way to kind of help support them in an indirect way with owning their role in fundraising. Are they giving generously of themselves? How do they feel they’re contributing to fundraising? If they don’t feel like they are, this is a great way . . . it’s more of a rallying cry, more of a red carpet to say, “Hey, this is something that we want to address, we want to get some support here. We want to enhance this with an organization.”

How are you doing on making it fun? This is their volunteer time. They could be at home with their family. How are we making board service fun and meaningful and satisfying for them? We want to set our board members up for success. So a great orientation, a great welcome. They’re not just a warm body in an empty seat. We want to celebrate them when they come into the board and really make them feel welcome.

I am a big fan of assigning your board a buddy. A buddy is someone who is serving on the board and has been there for a while and they can kind of mentor that new board member so that that board member is successful and can keep their head above water and feel empowered. So you want to get your role model board members to be the buddies, right?

And then checking in with them, checking in with the new board member and asking, “How are we doing? How are you doing?” Checking in with them at least at the three-month mark after they’ve joined so they’re clear on their performance and their service.

Now, I’m sure because you guys identified yellow as the vast majority of folks on the call today said their board, they would rate their board a green, yellow, red, a yellow. Some of you might have board members who, I was telling Steven, you can lead, actually, someone else on the call today, we were talking about how you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

You may have a board member, despite all of your best intentions, despite giving them training, giving them role models, giving them a board buddy, you can’t not get them to do it. You just can’t get them to do it. Maybe this is a board member who feels like they were brought in under false pretenses.

Maybe they feel like this isn’t really fair because I was told I wasn’t going to be in charge of fundraising and now you want me to do that and you changed the rules on me and I’m not comfortable with that. Maybe that happens. You might have someone who absolutely refuses to support the fundraising effort of the organization.

These are some tips to help you have a graceful exit with a difficult board member. If you didn’t set the right expectations, own it. The minute you apologize for something you’ve done wrong, you take the venom out of that hostility. “I’m so sorry. This is where we failed. We didn’t set the right expectations. This is something that’s really important to the organization and it was wrong of us to not set those expectations, but we need your support to make this happen. And I realize and I honor this isn’t comfortable to you and I respect that.”

So own your failures to properly set expectations, even if this is something that maybe it wasn’t your fault. Maybe it was someone else’s fault and you inherited this mess. Own it and acknowledge it and apologize for it.

Be sensitive if there’s something, some health issues, some personal issues, maybe they lost their job and they’ve got their hands full getting a new job. Maybe they just had a baby. You want to be sensitive. You want to create this space for these people to have a graceful exit and to exit with honor and with dignity and with gratitude for their service, no matter how much they have fallen down on the job or you’ve fallen down on recruiting them the right way.

So it’s okay to say, “You know? This feels like a busy time for you right now. Do you have the time to serve right now?” Give them options. This is a great way to exit with grace. Maybe they take a leave of absence. Maybe they get off the board and they just serve on a committee for a while. Those are different options that they can have where they can still be engaged and still play a role but not have the commitment of being a full on board member. So those are a few options for board members who don’t participate.

Now, here’s a tip. My number one tip to avoid having a board meeting being like this is toss out Robert’s Rules of Order. I’m sure many of you on the call are using Robert’s Rules of Orders. I think it’s one of the quickest ways to put people to sleep in a board meeting. It doesn’t have to be that way. Nowhere is it written that we have to use Roberts Rules of Orders. So that alone could drastically change the culture and the energy in your board meetings.

Here are some other tips. These are from Gail Perry’s book, “Fired-Up Fundraising.” I’ve got this book as well as a couple of other great ones that I’m going to recommend to you at the end. But these are some tips from Gail’s book.

Give your agenda a theme and some goals and some outcomes. This is a great way to drive your board to stay focused and have completion and be clear on what the goals of the meetings are and set intentional outcomes for the meeting before it ever begins.

Do something fun at the beginning, like a fun ice breaker. Remember, this is a social time for these people. They’re networking with other board members who are important influencers in the community. So this is a great opportunity. Start with something fun, maybe an icebreaker so they’re learning more about their peers.

These are some great testimonials. The better a job you do at telling fantastic stories and testimonials, the more successful those board members are going to be out there in the field repeating those stories and sharing those stories with you. So invest in some great testimonials. Get some from your staff. Get some from clients and share those. Another great idea is have the board members share them, right?

And then another fantastic idea is split into small groups. It doesn’t always have to be same routine where you’ve got the finance committee giving their report and the governance committee giving their report. Break it up. Put it into small groups. Maybe give them a small problem to tackle at the meeting or give different groups different problems and they come back and present towards the end of the meeting. Change it up a little bit. Make it fun, make it interactive.

So I’m going to start tackling some of these fantastic questions that have come in. I want to let you guys know I do custom board trainings if that’s something that’s ever helpful to you. I’ve got a webinar series coming up next year on major gift fundraising.

I’m going to look over at some of these amazing questions that have been coming in. Wow. Okay. So Mary Claire asks a really good one. “How do I convince my board that we cannot afford to meet face to face and have to meet virtually and that this virtually meeting can be productive?”

That’s a really good question. So I work remotely. So I do a lot of virtual meetings. I do a lot of Google Hangouts. I do a lot of webinars like this. I would say strive to make this meeting as productive as you can. I would show them. I would give them things that they’re going present or that they’re going to share. So give them some ownership of what they’re going to be doing at that meeting and try to make it as fun and interactive as you can. So that would be my advice there.

Lots of great questions. Brett asked one at the beginning, “What is your opinion about having professionals on the board that offer in kind services or contributions such as law services and advertisement or treasury-centered services in lieu of a large monetary pledge.”

Well, Brett, that’s a great question. I am not budging one inch, my friend. Every board member needs to make a gift that is a stretch gift for them. They get to define how it is a stretch gift. Now, many boards do this differently. Some organizations have a give or get and it’s a certain dollar amount. Other people choose to invite the board members to make a stretch gift that’s meaningful to them.

So however you want to do it. That’s great that they’re donating in kind services to you. However, they can still make their own gift themselves. That is as generous as they can personally give. Every single one of us on this call might define a stretch gift differently. It’s going to be a different amount for Sandy as it is for Adam as it for Brett as it is for me as it for Steven. That’s okay. It’s up to them to decide what that is.

But every board member has to be giving. The bottom line of why that’s so important is that you can ask someone else to make a gift if you haven’t made a gift yourself. You can’t do it. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It’s unethical. It isn’t appropriate.

I’m going to answer a few more of these. I’m going to switch over here and show you guys really quick while I’m answering these questions, this is my contact information. Those are today’s handouts. I’m just going to leave that up so you can see those. So for anyone who joined late and didn’t get to see from the beginning and I’m going to answer a few more of these.

Nancy asks a great question and I can really see a lot of people having this same challenge as Nancy, “How do you transition from a culture that didn’t require board members to be involved in fundraising to one that now wants its board members involved?”

I can see a lot of people being in that position with their organization. That’s a great question, Nancy. So this is an important transition and you need to acknowledge it. Now, my advice to you is to consider outside counsel and how outside counsel can support you in this. The other most important thing, important person in all this is your board chair.

Your board chair needs to be your right hand person and your partner in crime and your BFF in transitioning this culture from board members who weren’t involved in fundraising to board members who are going to be involved in fundraising. So you need to acknowledge this is the transition and maybe your board chair can talk about their own gift and how they made a gift and different ways they can support fundraising. You’ve gotten ten tips today that don’t involve them doing a face-to-face ask.

The more palatable you make fundraising, the more you show this is the meaning of it, that this is important. Maybe this is happening because your organization has had funding that it no longer gets anymore. These are people serving on your board that care about your organization. They want to be involved in your organization. They’re important to your organization and they want to see it successful.

Can I everybody still hear me okay? Can you hear me okay, Steven?

Steven: I can. You’re on a roll.

Rachel: Okay. So Michael asks, “Our board is made up of physicians who donate their time and treasure to treat the underserved patients for free. They give small amounts of donations. How do I take them to the next level?”

That’s a great question. You are not the first fundraising professional, Michael, who has a board made up of physicians who is challenged to get them to upgrade their giving. So I would think about different ways they can give. Maybe they want to name you in their will or estate. I would think about showing them, just like you would a donor, showing them how that larger gift is going to be significant to them, like what more things you can do with them giving more. And this is a good thing to think about for everybody on the call as well.

When you’re thinking about your board members, they’re not that different than your donors. The way that you cultivate these people is very similar to how you would cultivate your own donors and they need the same things. They need to see how big the need is. They need to see their gift makes a difference. It’s not just a tiny drop in a bottomless well of need, but they’re gift actually makes a difference.

I’m going to take a few more questions, but I’ve got this slide up of some great recommended reading. So the first is Gail Perry’s book that I mentioned early, “Fire-Up Fundraising.” The next book is a little blurry on the author. It’s Susan Howlett. I adore her. This is a great book. I was talking about this book earlier today, “Boards on Fire,” really, really great book.

And then finally love this book by Andrea and Andy, “Train Your Board and Everyone Else to Raise Money,” great activities. This is a real great do-it-yourself. You could do a lot of these fantastic activities at the beginning of your board meeting as like an ice breaker. I encourage you, if hiring outside counsel isn’t available to you, think about other organizations and how you might be able to kind of like trade.

You might be able to give another organization some training and they might have someone who’s willing to give you some training. It’s always better to have someone from the outside doing this. This can be challenging to do yourself. There are lots of great things you can do on your own, ice breakers and some activities, a full-day training, a half-day training. Sometimes this can be hard. It can be difficult for you to participate number one.

And it can be hard for your board to hear it. It can feel like the first time they’ve heard it when they hear it from someone else, even though you’ve been telling them this until you’re blue in the face. I know that’s frustrating. I was once in your shoes too. I could say these things until I was blue in the face. But the minute they heard it from a consultant that I had giving them training, they were like, “You know what we should do, Rachel?”

So if you don’t have it in your budget, think about how you might be able to swap with another organization and you guys provide training. Or think about how can you do some of these in bite-size chunks, like just one activity at the very beginning of the training.

Amy asks a really interesting question, “What is the amount of gifts that should receive a call or should they all?

So the first thing I want to say to answer your question, Amy, is that our donors have no idea what fantastic love and attention is waiting for them at higher gift amounts. That being said, you only have so much time at a board meeting. I don’t know what the size of your file is.

So I would start with your top tier donors and then I would just move down the list. You might have board members, many of you, your board members are going to love doing this. They’re going to have fun. They’re going to be like, “Give me some more names. I want to make more phone calls.”

So I would start with your top tier and just aggressively move down the list. You can also do this at your meetings. You can also give this to your board members. You can email them the names and script. It’s a little bit harder sometimes to follow up on that if you email it to them, but you can also do that. But I would say start with what is manageable and what you can do and then just keep expanding the circle.

Let’s see here. Maureen asks a really interesting question that I’m sure is difficult for other people on the call as well. “What do you suggest with an ED that controls the entire board agenda and conversation?”

So it’s funny. I was thinking more about toxic board members and toxic executive directors. But that’s challenging. They’re not giving anyone else space to take ownership and that’s what’s really critical, extremely critical. I would have some open conversations with your ED about, “How can we empower the board to take more ownership? What are things that we can do to have them take on agenda items?” The more personal responsibility that these folks have, the more invested they’re going to be.

If that doesn’t work, you can always try to get sometimes maybe an assessment. Maybe this is something if your board is doing a self-assessment, I hope your board is doing a review of the executive director’s performance. But these are all questions like, “Do board members feel invited? Do they feel like they’re active participants in board meetings?” This is a totally appropriate question for your board members to be asked and invited to share.

I’ve got a little bit more time to answer a few more. Stephanie asks if I have a sample board agenda. I don’t have one in the slide deck. It really depends on what you want to cover, but I think it’s always great to have an ice breaker. I think it’s always great to do a thank-a-thon. Calling and thanking board members can literally take five minutes.

I think it’s also great, think, Stephanie, about all of the things you would do with your board in a board retreat. Think about all the big juicy problems you’d have them solve. Think about the brainstorming they’d do. Think about the self-assessment they might do. Think about all that they would do at a board retreat. Think about how can you have one bite-sized thing of that added to your board agenda.

I think that’s a nice way to change up board meetings and make them more interesting and exciting. I would say a testimonial as well, maybe a mission moment from another board member, of course your finance reports with some highlights. So those are about six things I can think of being on the sample for an agenda.

Brett asks another question. “With Giving Tuesday coming up, do you force the organization slipping up in making a year-end appeal in addition to Giving Tuesday making donors or board members feel like a piggybank, so to speak, if they aren’t segmented out?”

So yeah, I see people being aggressive with their end of year fundraising goals and I definitely see people doing multiple asks, doing a multi-message ask and doing multi-part asks. You ask a really great question.

When you say making donors or board members feel like a piggybank, I think of feeling like an ATM machine, like it could be a piggybank or them feeling like an ATM. I would say the most important way to not make anyone feel like an ATM or a piggybank is this fantastic formula. It goes some like this. Ask, thank, report back. Donors do not define over-solicitation by a certain number of appeals they get, Brett. Donors define over- solicitation by being asked to give again before they know their first gift made a difference.

So think about your shampoo bottle and how it says lather, rinse, repeat. Your formula as a fundraiser is to ask, it is to thank and it is to report back. When I say report back, I mean report back on how that gift made a difference. Your donor isn’t ready to be asked again until they’ve been thanked and they know their gift made an impact. If they feel like that, then they won’t feel like an ATM machine.

So we are on the hour. I have loved getting to be with you today. Thank you so much for having me as your guest, Steven. It is always fun to get to spend time with you and the amazing folks at Bloomerang.

Steven: Yeah. We should thank you. Thanks for sharing all this awesome information with us for the last hour. I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. I think they did based on some of the comments and questions we’re getting. Rachel, is it fair to say that you can take questions through email and Twitter and all that good stuff?

Rachel: Absolutely.

Steven: I thought you would say that. Well, cool. I just want to do a couple more wrap-up items. Look for an email from me a little later on today. I’ll be sending out the recording as well as Rachel’s slides just in case you didn’t get them this morning. There are lots of resources on the Bloomerang website. We’ve got our podcasts, some downloadables. We’ve got our Bloomies, which are our awards for outstanding donor communication.

More webinars. We’ve got a couple webinars coming up in December. We’re going to take next week off for the Thanksgiving holiday, but we’re back two weeks from today with Gail Perry. She’s going to talk about how to write a really great thank you letter. That’s something you folks will probably be doing early on in the new year. So check that out. You don’t want to miss that one. Gail Perry is a great presenter. We’ve also got a great one three weeks from today on nonprofit blogging. So if you visit our webinar page, you’ll see both of those presentations.

We hope to see you again on another Bloomerang webinar. So I’ll say a final thanks and goodbye. Have a great rest of your day and a great weekend and hopefully we’ll see you soon.

Major gift fundraising

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.
Kristen Hay