In this webinar, Brian Saber explains how to work more strategically with your board to get them past the soul-deadening board minimums and quid-pro-quo fundraising they’re used to.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Brian, is it okay if I go ahead and get us started officially?

Brian: Absolutely.

Steven: All right, great. Well, good morning or good afternoon, I should say, 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 Bloomerang webinar, “Inspire your Board to Give and to Get.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of quick housekeeping items before we get started officially. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation, and we’ll be sending out that recording later on today as well as the slides. We did send the slides out earlier today at noon. Hopefully, you got those. There’s also a couple good handouts in that email from ReadyTalk, so check that out. If you didn’t notice those, download those. They’re going to be a great resource for you during and after the presentation.

Most importantly, please send us your questions and comments throughout the next hour. So, we’re going to leave some time at the end for Q&A, so don’t be shy at all about that. Send those questions our way. You can also use Twitter if you would also like to do that through Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed there as well, but don’t be shy. We’re going to try save a lot of time at the end for questions and answers.

And one last bit of technical note. If you have any trouble with the audio, we find that the audio is usually a bit better by phone. So, if you have any trouble to your computer, if it seems slow or maybe kind of garbled, don’t give up on us until you try the phone. If you can use your phone and don’t mind doing it, try that before you give up entirely.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar with us, I just want to say an extra-special welcome. We do these webinars just about every Thursday all throughout the year. We bring on a great guest like Brian, great content, totally an educational. One of my favorite things we do at Bloomerang, but if you’re not familiar with Bloomerang, we offer donor management software. So, if you’re in the market for that or maybe just curious about our offering, check out our website, wait until the end of the presentation please, don’t do that now, but check out that later on and you can get a sneak peek at the software. It’s pretty cool there.

But for now, I am very excited to welcome back one of my favorite webinar presenters from 2017. This was an easy one to put back on the 2018 schedule. Brian, how’s it going?

Brian: It’s going very well, thank you.

Steven: Yeah, thanks for coming back. I know you’re super busy. You’re a frequent webinar presenter, so it’s a big treat to have you. I just want to brag on you really quickly. I know you got a lot of great content, so I’m not going to steal too much your thunder. But if you guys don’t know Brian, he is the president over at Asking Matters, great experts in asking obviously, but you’re going to hear a lot of expertise about the board specifically today.

He has been in your shoes. He’s not just kind of one of those consultants who talks the talk but hasn’t walked the walk. He has been an executive director twice, he’s been in charge of major gifts at Brandeis University. He was there for six years handling major gifts throughout the Midwest for that university. Lots of experience there. And he’s led lots of trainings. Like I said, most recently, for organizations like Prevent Child Abuse America, the Archdiocese of L.A., Social Venture Partners International, National Public Radio NPR, Volunteers of America, the U.S. Olympics Committee, lots of others. I could go on and on.

So this is a super high-caliber speaker. He was with us last year. Gave a really great presentation, and I’m super excited to hear his take on board giving and board fundraising. So Brian, I think you’re going to share your screen but it is all yours to take away my friend. It looks like it’s working.

Brian: Excellent. Okay.

Steven: Cool.

Brian: Yeah, well, thank you. Thanks, Steve, for having me here today. It’s great to be with you. Sorry, everyone, you’re seeing my face a second time. We’ll get that off the screen soon, but I’m speaking to you today from South Orange, New Jersey. I saw you all typing in before. I saw someone from Morristown, just west of me saying, “It’s cold here.” It is cold today. Someone else is saying, “It’s rainy in Seattle.” We’ve got people from Mexico. It’s great having all of you here.

Boards are near and dear to me. For 25 years, I’ve worked in nonprofits, which meant I work directly with boards all those years, but it is challenging, but it is important. Boards are our partners, and I say, ours because most of you on today, I’m sure, are staff. Usually, it’s staff who come to these webinars and we need the board to partner with us if we’re going to have the resources we need to make the impact we want to have and fulfill our vision. It’s just the way it works but it’s certainly not an easy part of the nonprofit world.

So I’ve worked with, at this point, probably hundreds of boards and everyone thinks they’ve got a unique issue, and generally, it turns out, everyone else has that issue too. So you’re in good company. I do want to encourage you to ask questions. So there are hundreds and hundreds of you on today, so we may not get to your question but Steve is going to be watching the questions box, and if there is a question that’s relevant to what I’m touching on at the moment, he’ll interrupt me and I’ll answer it. Otherwise, there’ll be some time at the end for it. So please, do pose those questions.

We’re going to cover . . . we’ve got five things we’re covering. So, we’re going to start with what the goals of board involvement of fundraising, what those goals are. This whole concept of give, get, or both, where I have a very strong opinion. Then we’ll talk specifically about board giving, board fundraising, and how do you get there.

And the topic of this webinar is “Inspire Your Board,” and part of the way to inspire them is by presenting this whole concept of fundraising in a very different way from the way it often gets presented, where it is a responsibility, this is something you have to do, and so forth. We’re not going to talk much about governance and mission. I’ll mention it a little bit at the end, but rather, how we need to position giving and fundraising if we want it to be compelling and inspiring to our boards. And we’ll end with how we get there, some ways just to implement a better process for involving the board.

So let’s start with the goals. So, the goals for board giving. Why is it important for the board to give? Well, first of all, the board gives important dollars. So one way to explain this to the board and inspire them is to say, your dollars are so important because you understand this organization better than anyone else. And you’re the most likely person to make a gift that’s going to go right to the bottom line, a gift that will fund whatever it is we need, including keeping the lights on and paying the salaries and things that sometimes other donors don’t want to fund.

And your dollar doesn’t cost us anything. We don’t have to have an event to get your dollar. We don’t have to do direct mail and other things, right, we just ask for it. So those are important dollars that give us flexibility, that allow us to be strategic, and so forth. And I don’t think the board always understands that. So, the first is that if those are important dollars, fungible, unrestricted, mostly dollars.

Second, it is true. You put your money where your mouth is, right? When you give, and we’re going to talk about what that giving should be, you’re investing in the organization. The more you give relative to your capacity, relative to what you give to other organizations, the more of an investor you’ll feel like. And we want our boards to be investors so that the decisions they make at the board level reflect that buy in.

Third, it sets an example for other donors. Of course, we, as professional fundraisers and board members or consultants today in the field, we always look at every donor list, right? We look at a donor wall, we look at donor rosters and programs, we look at annual reports, so do other donors. And it’s important for our board to be there in a significant way as givers in order for other people to want to give, because other people are going to give relative to what the board, who they see as the primary donors and investors, are giving.

And fourth, and most of you know this, most foundations, corporate funders, many government funders are going to ask you, is your entire board giving? It is a minimum threshold or requirement that everyone on the board be making a gift. And if everyone isn’t, it’s going to raise a red flag for your institutional funders.

So, what are the goals of board “getting?” Well, interestingly, they’re very similar. When your board goes out and solicits gifts or helps you solicit gifts, they help raise important dollars, those dollars that often go to the bottom line from others.

Two, no questions, fundraising is the most difficult, most challenging work for anyone, staff or volunteer. When your board members do that work as volunteers, they really have a stake in the organization. It makes them feel that much more invested.

It sets an example for others. So if you’re going to have an event committee or if you’ve got some sort of Annual Fund committee, let’s say you’re an independent school and you have a parent committee soliciting, they’re going to want to see that the board itself is out there soliciting and not just relegating it to another committee, and it meets the gold standard. If you can say to your board that everyone is involved with . . . I’m sorry, if you can say to institutions that everyone at your board is involved in fundraising and helping to get the resources you need, that’s going to set you apart from most organizations.

So, the goal is to maximize both, which gets us to this concept of give, get, or both. There are lots of different policies out there. I believe the way to maximize both is by asking people to give and to get to the best of their ability.

And to explain why, to me, this is the way to go, I want to talk for a minute about what happens when you have a different type of policy. So let’s say, and this is not uncommon, you give or get $5,000, $2,500, $10,000, whatever that is, and you leave it to the board to figure out how they’re . . . board members individually as to how they’re going to get to that $5,000. So, here’s what I’ve seen in the hundreds of organizations I’ve worked with.

So, in the first scenario, we have a board member with a lot of capacity. He will write the check for $5,000 and it’s done. And then, you have the board member with less capacity writes a check maybe for $1,000 and then struggles to fundraise for the rest. Why? Because people with capacity know people with capacity. Just the way it is. That’s how we lead our lives. As a matter of fact, with the disparities and wealth and the way people live today, it’s even more likely that you’re going to work and live and interact with people who have capacity near to yours, depending on where you live, where your kids go to school, if you belong to some sort of club, whatever it is. So time and again, 95% of the time, those with more capacity have access to more capacity.

The second scenario is that that board member with more capacity doesn’t even have to give 5,000 but can give a thousand, get four friends to write $1,000 checks, and maybe giving $1,000 then to their organizations. We’re going to talk about that a little bit later. This quid pro quo is a terrible way for board members to be raising money, and it’s certainly not inspiring. So then, that board member with more capacity is only writing a personal check for the same amount as the board member with less capacity, and that other board member is still struggling. In worst case scenario, the board member with more capacity works for some large corporation, gets the corporation to write the check. Right? So, none of these scenarios is going to create what you want. None of them is going to maximize what anyone can do.

Now, I notice some of you are from New York. Some of you may know of Hudson Guild, one of the old settlement houses where I worked for eight years as deputy and then executive director. So, at Hudson Guild, there were, more or less, 25 board members. Each year, three of those board members contributed 75% of what all the board members gave.

Why? Because three board members had extraordinary capacity. One was the daughter of a multi-billionaire, they were in a different league from the other board members. That board did a letter-writing campaign near the end to their friends. I’m not a huge fan of it. We’ll talk about that in a minute. Regardless, those three board members raised 90% of what the entire board raised through that campaign. It happened time and again.

So, is that what you want? Well, yes in a way, right? If you don’t want this give or get because who would be motivated to get more than the next person to give or get more. What you want is to create this sense on the board that everyone’s a partner with each other, which means they have equal skin in the game. An equal skin doesn’t mean an equal contribution. It means that everyone is doing the best they can for the organization. That’s going to inspire the board to reach higher.

And there’s nothing inspiring about having a threshold and once you’ve met it you’re done. You want everyone to do their best and you want everyone around the table to feel everyone else is doing the same. And when you have these give or get minimums, you end up not getting that. Very hard to get it. So, I believe you’ve got to separate the give from the get.

You got to separate them. And that means everyone has to give, we’re going to talk about what that means, everyone has to help cultivate relationships. So it’s not enough to write a check. Again, fundraising is the most difficult work board members are going to do. It’s the thing that they tell you if when they meet with you and they want to join the board. There is a very likely sale, do anything but fundraising, or I hate fundraising, I’m terrible at it. I’ve heard this for 33 years now. So, we need everyone to do it, everyone to help cultivate relationships, everyone to ask for something, we’re going to talk about what that is, and some, and hopefully most, will ask for gifts.

And I say some hopefully most, because if you start out with the premise that everyone is going to have to go ask for gifts, people are going to . . . first of all, people are going to stop listening, and more to the point, some people are going to stink at it no matter what you do. Because everyone can’t be good at everything. And do you really want board members out there representing your organization and doing a lousy job of asking on behalf of the organization? That’s not getting anyone anywhere.

So I never say, everyone has to be out asking for gifts. That’s not the only or even the most important role, and we’re going to get into that in a minute. So I say some and hopefully most of you, right, after we’ve trained you in such. We’re going to talk about all that, the want to be involved. And I find, when I present it this way, it makes more sense. We want to present it in a way that is inclusive, a way that inspires, a way that feels more strategic.

So, let’s move on to, back to, if you will, board giving. Because this is the key role, the key element in bringing resources to your organization. And strong personal giving sets you up to be in a strong position to ask others, right? So, if a board member doesn’t make a strong gift himself or herself, that’s going to be harder for them to be, those people, to be involved in the fundraising process. So for me the, key words here are personally significant gift. Everyone must give a personally significant gift.

And I love asking board members in a discussion, at a board meeting, or something, what do you think is . . . how would you describe personally significant? And sometimes, I might provide some. So, I had to think about it hard before making it. We’ve all had the experience of going out to solicit a gift. I’m sure you have, where we ask for a gift. Would you consider a gift of $1,000? And some would say, “Sure.” And the first thing we think is, “Boy, that was easy.” We could have asked for more.

Now, next year you will. And besides asking for more because more money will help you do more good, we want everyone to give a gift they need to think about because that’s an important gift for them as well. Otherwise, if it’s just something they can toss off, it’s not meaningful, it’s going to be hard to get that gift over time, and the person is not going to feel engaged. So we want board members to have to think about it.

We want it to be one of their top gifts. Now, it’s not necessarily going to be their number one gift. Many people might have a place of worship, an alma mater, or a medical cause that’s near and dear to them, but if it’s not near the top, one of the top two or three we hope, what does that mean, what does that represent? Now, someone might be on a lot of boards, I’m not a fan of people sitting on a lot of boards that forces them to spread themselves thin, but most people are only on a board or two. And if their gift to you isn’t near the top, why? An interesting question. So that one way to evaluate it, to ask people to evaluate this, to put it near the top.

You want it to be, and this relates back to the first point, something that helps them feel more invested in the organization. Because then the decisions they make, as we noted before, come from a different place and from a sense of ownership. Or that it represents how much they care about the organization, the organization makes or could make. So, I’m going to ask Steve, I’m going to hand back the screen, I’m going to ask Steve to launch a poll. And I’d love to know . . . are you going to launch it, Steve? Great.

Steven: Yeah.

Brian: What percentage of your board members do you think make a personally significant gift? If you could click on that. If you think 75% or more, 50% to 74%, 25% to 49%, or under 25%. And we’ll give you about 10 more seconds. We’ve got almost a hundred of you so far.

Steven: Brian, you’re saying interesting knowledge here, and [inaudible 00:20:07].

Brian: And oh, and Ali says, annually or during their entire tenure? Annually. I should say each year. This year. Let’s take 2017 because it just finished. In 2017, what percentage did you think made a personally significant gift? And I think Jennifer is typing in the questions box. Under 25%. I also see the Cherrie’s saying, good question, good question, so I know I’ve got some questions coming to me.

Steven: Yeah, but [inaudible 00:20:33]

Brian: So, Steve, why don’t you now close it and skip to the results or you might even be able to skip to the results without closing it and we can see where everyone is. Let’s see.

Steven:Hopefully, we see the results now. Looks like mostly is under 25%. It kind of trails. Yeah.

Brian: Yeah. Yes, I know if they give percentages but the biggest percentage is under 25%. It looks like the poll’s still open, so I’m going to close it. And now do you see the bars?

Steven: Yeah, I see the bars.

Brian: So, two-third of you are under 25%. That doesn’t surprise me. Almost a third at 25% to 49%, so a lot of work to do, a lot of room for improvement. Are we going to get everyone to give a personally significant gift? Maybe not. But wherever you’re at, unless you’re at that 75% or more, and congratulations to the 26 of you who are, maybe you can set a goal of trying to get 10% or 15% more of your board members at that threshold. Okay. So, I’m going to share my screen again, and let’s continue.

So, how do we get people to give a personally significant gift? So here’s another one of my, I feel so strongly about this. No minimum gifts. No minimum gifts because the problem I have is that barring any one-on-one conversation with board members. What you think you’re setting as a floor for giving ends up being a ceiling. Let’s say you set a minimum of $1,000. Every board member must give $1,000. Most board members are going to give $1,000 without any other prompting or discussion. There’s no reason to think others are giving more or that it’s necessary to give more. They’re going to assume their fellow board members are giving a thousand and therefore that’s what they should do.

And in order to get past that challenge, you need to personally solicit everyone. At which point, why not solicit them all for a personally significant gift and not have this mindset and this low threshold which will end up in there in the back of their mind. Further, minimums need to be set at a level that most board members can get to pretty easily. Otherwise, you’re going to get a lot of resistance, right? You’re not going to say the minimum has to be $25,000 unless you happen to be a university or a medical institution or an opera house or something, right?

So you’re setting it low relative to the overall capacity of your board members, and still, even if you do that, you’re going to have to have discussions with a few board members who can’t even meet the minimum. And you’re going to have to say, “Don’t worry, that doesn’t apply to you. We know you can’t meet the minimum.” And they’re not going to feel good either. There’s nothing inspiring in any of that. It’s deadening. And it’s, in some cases, humiliating to someone who’s of modest means and was brought on not for their gift to then have to be told don’t worry, you don’t have to meet this level. Right? It’s a board expectation but not for you.

So I hope you can see that these minimums, barring a very sophisticated recruitment process, solicitation, assessment process, etc. isn’t going to meet your goals. I’ve seen very few organizations do minimums well. So give and get to the best of your ability and no minimum gift. Important policies, if we’re going to inspire our board to give more and to make it feel like more essential than obligation of being on the board.

So, before I move into board fundraising, Steve, are there any questions about board giving you got that you thought I should touch on before moving on?

Steven: Yeah, we’ve got a great one from Jim Chubb [SP]. If you have a favorite board that is basically pretty resistant to everything you just said, you know, it’s not our job to do fundraising maybe, maybe you’ve never made that expectation before, and you suddenly put an expectation on them, how do you turn that around? You kind of midstream?

Brian: Excellent, great question, great. This will not happen overnight. Look, there are two ways to make change. There’s revolution and there’s evolution. So if your board’s a disaster and you know what that means, you might have to get rid of the board and start again and really just change all your policies at once and who knows what. Virtually, never should that happen. The better thing is to evolve over time.

I find when I work with an organization that this process takes three years start to finish. What do I mean by that? So, in three years, as you start to have discussions, as your governance committee, or your executive committee, or the full board has retreats and starts to talk about the needs of the organization and what best practices are for boards, you can start to make some changes. You’re not going to make all of them at once.

The first thing to do is to find a couple of people who agree. You have to have champions, advocates on the board. If you, as staff, are doing this yourself, really problematic trying to tell the board this is how you should behave. You need to have a couple of people on the board.

So what happens over a couple of years? You start to institute things. People start to understand, some people do. So, at the end of three years, let’s say about twenty board members, well, probably a third to a half of them now get it and are willing to go in this direction. You’ve brought on, in three years, maybe a half and dozen new board members, maybe more, and they’ve come on with the new expectations, and we’ll talk about that a little at the end, and a few people may have left your board because they just don’t want to go that way. This is really big with sounder boards by the way.

When you’ve got a young organization and you’ve got all these people who have brought on in the first place for their knowledge, for their hard work, and then they sort of get left behind as the organization grows and needs to move towards fundraising, you sometimes end up with these. So few people will leave and you might have a few who don’t want to leave and don’t want to grow. But now, the majority of your board gets it and is moving ahead, and then you deal with those other people separately. You might just let it ride, let them coast, or you might find a way to segue them out into another role. Assume though, it’s going to take a couple of years, especially if you’re starting from zero and not that this is an overnight. So I hope that answers your question. I can talk about it a little bit more at the end as well.

So, board fundraising, the board’s role in fundraising. So one of the ways to help inspire the board to be involved is to help them understand what the reality is for us. Here’s the reality. $390 billion was given out in 2016 in charitable gifts in the United States. We don’t have the 2017 numbers yet, and this is how they played out.

So, 72% of all gifts were outright from individuals, another 8% from bequests, which all come from individuals, and people often forget that half of foundation gifts are individual and small family foundations where it’s really an individual giving the money. So, almost 88% of all charitable gifts come from individuals, and we also know that the largest gifts come from asking in person. The largest gifts to your organization are never going to come from crowdfunding, from direct mail, probably from a special event, except maybe a couple of sponsors, and so forth. The gifts we see that name a room, that name a building, that start new programs, none of those come from anything other than cultivating and soliciting. And it takes all hands on deck to do that, right?

You get a foundation gift, you might get a $50,000 or $100,000 foundation gift, and the newest staff can do most of that yourself. It’s one foundation. It’s a lot of individuals giving that other hundred and it takes all hands on deck. Most organizations don’t have any developments down, whenever you can type in if you have any or none. Most organizations have a budget under a million dollars, the executive directors doing most of the fundraising, maybe there’s one development person.

I think, when you start to lay it out that way and help your board understand where the money comes from, it’s helpful because then the question is what piece in the pie do we want. What piece of the pie is going to help us have the impact you, as board members, want us to have? This is the reality. We can’t just do another special event. That’s a different webinar altogether. I’m happy to come back to talk about the pros and cons of special events. Board members often will suggest them because it’s easier for them. But the long-term health of your organization is going to be based on getting individuals to give year in and year out in increasing amounts and having a strong individual base. That’s the piece you want, and you can’t get that piece without the board.

So how are we going to get there? Well, unfortunately, a lot of the board members who are asked to do doesn’t feel good and isn’t strategic. So, it feels like they’re begging. They’re arm-twisting, or this awful quid pro quo. All this sending out invitations, people come to your event, and then they have to go to everyone else’s, or they do a letter writing and they write checks to people and they write them too. None of this feels good. None of this is helping you in the long run. Especially since that board members, if all board members do to raise money for you is this quid pro quo fundraising. The day they leave the board, all those gifts leave with them.

And we often find that board members even say, “Okay, my list. They made gifts, but don’t solicit. Don’t cultivate them. I don’t want you sending anything to them. I’ll just write to them next year.” It’s deadly. It’s deadly, and I think we need to explain but that’s not what we want you to do. If we ask them to do that, there’s no way to inspire them. Because we’re asking them to do awful non-strategic work, and in the back of their minds, I think they get that.

Here is what I’d like you to ask them to do. I’d like you to ask them to consider having four people or entities on their radar screen to cultivate over time along with staff and possibly solicit or join in on a solicitation, but most importantly, to cultivate and move along. And here’s the kicker. It doesn’t have to be their people. Almost every organization has lots of donors or prospects that have not been cultivated enough because, getting back to that pie issue, we don’t have enough person power to do all the cultivation and solicitation of everyone already in our sphere of influence. I’d much rather have a board member help me cultivating someone I know is already a giver and has more capacity, someone who’s interested from our list, then try their own. Especially, if they find that really difficult to do. So, I asked four members, “Will you help me?” with four relationships.

So let’s get back to the “everyone must help cultivate relationships,” and I’m sure you’ve all seen this or some other form of the donor cycle. So, almost any board member will help you identify prospects and educate them. How do we do that? Well, they can invite these people to visit the organization, see program in action, they can ask them to coffee to get to know them, they can send them updates personally.

Today with social media could be just by promoting your organization through their Facebook pages or whatever, but let’s say they reach out and individually, to these four people and send them updates from time to time. Maybe you have cultivation events for prospects and significant donors and they invite these people to come. Most board members, when you ask them, “Would you do that?” would say yes, especially if it’s not their own people. For some, cultivating their own people works, for others, not. We’re going to talk about that in a few minutes.

Then everyone must ask people for something. Now, it’s fine. I talk about that as involvement. There are so many things to ask for other than money, and board members are much more likely to do that, much more willing to look around and say, “Oh, you know what, my dear friend is an accountant, and I think would be great on our finance committee.” Or “Oh, my, I have a friend who makes plastic mugs which we could use for our next 5k race.” Or “This person is a marketing expert and I think would help us figure out how to roll out this new program or our crowdfunding campaign and so forth.” Or “This friend of mine isn’t really going to be interested in the organization but might introduce us to this other person who I think could be.”

Those are all asks. They help board members become more comfortable asking for important resources before asking for gifts. So, a stepping stone. And then, as we said, some hopefully, most, are going to ask for gifts.

So I want to get back to this point about what they’re asking for. So, a lot of the asking board members do is for special events, and we can’t spend a lot of time on it here. But if you’re really pushing your board to make your event habit and every board member has is expected to fill a table and buy a bunch of tickets, you should be rethinking that. Special events are expensive, they’re time consuming, and they are mostly a lousy way to cultivate donors for the future. It’s been proven that very few special events donors actually become big donors, directly to the cause at the end. Too many people are there for a variety of reasons that have very little to do with the impact you’re trying to make in your organization.

So, I say use board members more sparingly for special events. I’m not talking about letter writing because, again, that ends up being this quid pro quo. What we’re talking about is trying to get your board members involved in face-to-face, and it may very well mean that they don’t go out on their own test or a gift or ever a part of a solicitation. But they may very well be willing to join another board member or a staff member and speak from the heart at a solicitation meeting and simply not blurt out the words “Would you make a gift?” And by being there, by lending their presence and their passion, they are helping solicit gifts. And that might be the most we can ask for. Because asking in person absolutely matters, and I think the board needs to be focused on those asks.

So, we’ve now established that asking. I think asking person really matters and we need the board to do it. So I’d love you to type in and see if we’ll read some of these off. What’s the number one . . . why don’t your board members ask more in person? What’s the number one thing that keeps them from talking to donors in person? If you could type that in, that would be great. What’s the number one thing? And Steven, if you can read some of those out.

Steven: Getting some cool responses. Yeah. They don’t know they’re supposed to, we pay the staff to do that, what’s a staff job, they’re unprepared, they’re afraid, they’re nervous, it’s awkward, a lot of uncomfortableness the people saying, variations, on that.

Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Steven: Half our board is retired. That’s an interesting one. A lot of people saying comments fear awkwardness, fear, fear, fear a lot of things like that. I’m afraid to.

Brian: Yes, yeah.

Steven:All that good stuff.

Brian:Most of the issue is wrapped up in that. So I think you’ve all hit the nail on the head. Yet a lot of it relates to anxiety.

Look, for many of us, asking others for money is anxiety provoking. Okay, I have been asking for 33 years. I have made at least 3,000 solicitations. I don’t particularly like it and I can still get anxious. I do it because I care and I want to make a difference. That’s exactly why our board members are doing it, and they don’t have the skills and the training, forget the fact that we often don’t get enough training, we’re at least doing it. We’re talking about our organizations every day. If it’s hard for us imagine how hard it is for them, right, and we need to help them get over this anxiety. We can’t just say go do it.

We look at them as successful in their own lives, and we think that translates somehow to being successful in fundraising, and I don’t know why we do, except we put them on a pedestal as our board members. And we shoot ourselves in the foot by doing that. We have got to train our board members. We would never ask a board member to serve as a social worker in our clinic without that person having the proper training and having an MSW or something, and yet we asked a board to go out and fundraise, which you and I know is difficult and it’s nuanced and sophisticated without any training. It isn’t going to happen.

So many organizations have no training budget for the board. If you have no training budget for the board, don’t ask them to go fundraise. They shouldn’t fundraise without it. So, one way is training.

The second way is you need to help them embrace that they can do this themselves. Now, I’m sure a number of you were on my last webinar and know a little bit about Asking Matters, we’re going to spend a few minutes on this concept of the Asking Styles. I’m not going to go into everything about them, but at the core of Asking Matters is the idea that there are different ways to ask depending on how we interact and how we think. And so, based on it, we’re going to go through the whole asking process in different ways.

We have to help board members feel comfortable with who they are and the skills they have just like we have to ourselves embrace what we’re good at to bring them to the table. So, if you’ve never taken the Asking Style assessment, not now but later, you can go to It’s 30 questions. They’re true/false questions. It takes two or three minutes to answer it. And it’s a great tool for your whole board. It’s free for anyone. You just click on the link, and if you have your whole board take it, and then discuss their asking styles, people will start to feel more comfortable with who they are and what they bring to the table. The key is for them to feel that everyone can be effective, they’re just different. But everyone brings skills, no one has it all even the professional fundraisers.

So I want to share just two ways in which this is so critical to board members. The first has to do with who they’re going to solicit. Everyone shouldn’t solicit the same type of people. So I say look if someone’s a rainmaker, this analytic extrovert, they’re very goal-oriented and strategic. Yeah, give them the top to all the prospects because they are driven to close that deal and bring in a lot of money. That’s going to motivate them. That’s going to inspire them. They may go for their business contacts as well, and they like new prospects because they like the challenge and they’re extroverts.

Go-getters, and you’ll learn more of this over time in Asking Matters if you want. They’re great with their own friends and acquaintances. They’re very comfortable and they’re also good with new prospects. They like meeting new people.

Kindred spirits, now, I’m a kindred spirit. It took me 25 years to stop some listening my friends and acquaintances. Well, because we take everything personally. Everything comes from the heart with a kindred spirit and intuitive introvert. So, if you’ve got board members who are kindred spirits, asking them to solicit their friends and family is a killer. Don’t do it. And maybe if they’re starting out, “Give them people who are likely to say yes so they can get their sea legs, like maybe fellow board members.” And the organization’s best friends because for kindred spirits, rejection is a biggie. I mean it is for everyone but it’s really big for us kindred spirits. So we want to help kindred spirits get past that.

If you’re a mission controller, family foundations are great for mission controllers because they’re very organized and systematic people and the foundations tend to be a little bit more organized, and they have a proposal and mission controllers align with that well. They’ll solicit their friends, it’s the analytic, systemic side of them and if there’s someone who has to be seen, a mission controller is the one to do it because a mission controller always comes through.

So, if you’re analytic and you’re talking to other analytics, you’re going to talk the same language. I’m an intuitive. When I’m with an analytic, I got to work harder because I don’t talk about the facts and the figures and such. I like to tell personal stories. We’re going to talk about that in a sec. Right? So you might line up your board members with their own prospects or your prospects based on who’s going to have a better conversation.

Another way I look at these, the Asking Styles, is in the question. Each of us asks when we’re trying to figure something out. The rainmaker asks, “What’s the goal?” The go-getter, “What’s the opportunity?” Kindred spirit, “What moves my heart?” Mission controller, “What’s the plan?” Well, this is important because each of us tells a different story about our organization based on this question. There’s no such thing as an elevator pitch. Years ago, we used to say, “Oh, our board members need to learn the elevator pitch, so if they run into someone they know, what to say.” Absolutely not. You need to tell your own story. And of course, over the last years, we’ve heard so much about story, the importance of story.

So, everyone is going to tell a different story. They’re going to use different vocabulary. Everyone’s got to talk about vision and impact. You got to get to these high-level lofty things you’re trying to do to excite people and inspire them, but you’re going to tell your story in a different way. So mission controller is going to talk about the methods you use to accomplish your vision and have an impact. The go-getter is going to talk about the possibilities. In fact, go-getters are great at talking in this big visionary way, a little harder for everyone else to get there but everyone needs to do that. They need to practice.

So, how do we get there? Besides the fact that everyone has to train, how do we get to this giving and getting to the best of their ability and such? So just a few words on this and then we’ll open for questions. How do you get there? Number one, most important, you have to have strong committees that are leading this charge. The board has to own it. If it’s you, as staff, haranguing the board, which is how it often feels to us, right, it’s not going to work. It can’t be the executive or the development director leading the charge.

So, do you have those? You got to start with those because they set the tone from the very beginning, because the governance committee has to deal with this from the moment you reach out to prospective board members, right. Back to the question we got from [inaudible 00:45:35], I think it was. So, you’ve got an issue here and you’ve got to change this over time. How long does it take? As you’re bringing in new people now, you need to bring them in with this fuller understanding. It means going back to the board prospectus, the job descriptions and policies. Oh, that’s a governance role.

Whether you have a governance committee or another committee is doing this work, the governance committee is critical here. And a part of a strong governance committee is making sure that board members have mission moment. Are your board members experiencing or observing programs? Are they hearing from participants and program staff at board meetings? Are they discussing significant issues at board meetings? If your board meetings are all about reporting, they’re not going to inspire the board. If we don’t inspire the board through our work, they’re not going to go out in fundraise.

So one of the ways we inspire our board to go out is by connecting them much more to the mission, and that is the role of the governance committee or the role of governance. If you’re a smaller board and you don’t have that separate committee, that function is critical. And then of course, the fundraising committee, if you have one, needs to keep this whole moving log and needs to be an overseeing the board’s role in fundraising.

Next and last is annual individual meetings. So, I’m amazed at how many times I go to an organization’s board meeting and the chair says, “Okay, it’s that time of the year when everyone makes their pledges. I’ve distributed cards. Please fill them out and return them to me.” Or “I’m going to email each of you.” And I’m thinking, “Really? These are your biggest donors. Are you going to take your other biggest donors, put them all in a room together, and say, “Okay, it’s time for you all to make your gift. Here’s a pledge card. Write it down.” That is not going to get you where you want to go. You have to have individual meetings with every board member to solicit their gifts.

And board members should solicit each other. I have solicited many board members. I’ve gotten great gifts from them, but I haven’t helped the organization grow, and I’ve done that. Because we need to build their responsibilities. One of the members have to be responsible for soliciting, for monitoring each other and as a group, instilling best practice. When they solicit each other, it actually strengthens their relationships and it develops them as leaders and it trains them as askers. They’re getting real-world experience, whether they’re asking or they’re being asked, they’re coming to understand what it means to be in a discussion about a gift, because most people have never been asked face-to-face for gift.

I asked this question in every training I do in person, and less than 50% of all people I’ve ever asked have ever even been asked themselves. Well, if you haven’t been asked for a gift, you don’t even know what it means to be in that meeting. So we have to give our board members that experience, and starting with each other is a good place.

Now, once you’re meeting to talk about the gift, I am a big fan of using that meeting to discuss and to really do a performance review from the fundraising perspective. So, it’s important to evaluate the prior year how you do. You know, how did you help us with resource development? Were you able to make those four contacts? It keeps everyone honest because people often will say, “Oh, I’ll do that for you.” Well, did you do that for us? Well, should we put it back on the agenda for this year or not?

This is the way we reinforce what those board expectations are on the fundraising and the giving sides, okay? We need to acknowledge what our board members have done. They can feel good about it, thank them, and we need to evaluate all those ways board members can contribute in the coming year. And this is a rich discussion which must happen one-on-one with every board member every year. This is really important to inspiring them, by having these rich discussions, by giving them this opportunity in a more formal setting or private setting to think about how important this organization is, where it stands, and what they really can consider doing this year.

So to help you with that, there’s one bonus handout for today. This is a form I made decades ago which I’ve used in some format every step of the way. This one shows . . . it might be a little small on your screen but you’ll get it as PDFs. What was proposed for the year in actual. So let’s say I’m going to someone and I’m in the middle of this process, right? We’ve done this process. So, everyone’s proposed what they’ll do. I’m going to sit on this committee, I’m going to make a personal gift of $2,500, my board can match it, I’m going to give some in-kind, I’m going to provide some meeting space, and here are the four people I’m going to work on.

And at the end of the year, you want to go back and say, “Okay, how do we do? Did you sit on those committees?” Okay, great, and you made your personal gift and you did this and you did this. Okay, it looks like you cultivated only three, and there’s a record of it. There’s a record of it, and it helps to lead the discussion. Sometimes, for some people, it can feel a little too formal to do this. You can just do it verbally, try and fill this in afterward, but I find sometimes it’s helpful to have it for both board members to have it in front of them.

By the way, I say board members, it can be helpful for an executive director or someone else to go along on these meetings, but a board member should be doing the soliciting and leading of it. So, that is how to inspire board members to give and get. And now, time for some more questions. Steve, do you want to queue some up?

Steven: Yeah, that was awesome, Brian. I want to say thanks first. That was a lot of great advice and info. And by the way, if any of you were more intrigued in those Asking Styles, that was at four quadrant grid that Brian had on one slide. We got a whole webinar on that they did for us last year. That’s really, really good and it dives deep in all four of those styles, so check that out if you want to learn more. That’s my little commercial for your other webinar, Brian. But yeah, lots of questions. Probably, not going to be able to get to all of them by two o’clock. So, I’m just kind of roll through some good ones here.

Simsha [SP] got a 10-person board member . . . 10-member board. They don’t even attend meetings or let alone do all the things you said. Time to let them go, Brian? Is it time to let board members go? Won’t do any of this stuff even if we ask them. Should you do that? How do you do it? Firing board members, go for it.

Brian: Firing board members. Oh, a matter of fact, Simone Joyaux has a great long-term consultant on boards has a book on firing lousy board members. And the goal is not to fire them but not to be afraid if that’s the case. Hopefully, there’s at least a chair or someone who is really involved and understands that the organization has to do better, and will start putting people’s feet to the fire. You have to at least say, “Our expectation is that you’ll attend at least four of our six board meetings. Anyone who doesn’t next year will be leaving the board.”

Because if people don’t come to board meetings, you’re dead. Then there’s no cohesion. No one’s going to be inspired. There’s no sense you’re in it together, you can’t get anywhere if people don’t come to meetings. People should come to meetings. If you don’t have the time to come to the meetings, you shouldn’t be on the board. I’m also not a fan of exceptions. If someone’s too busy, then this is not the right role for them. I mean, it sounds like his board needs tremendous work and it’s a really weak position, and that just getting them to attend and have ownership over the governance and the decisions is the first challenge. So, that could be an hour discussion right there I think.

Steven: Yes. Yeah, that’s a fun one. I don’t. Jennifer is wondering. If you don’t have a budget for board training, should you just do it yourself and kind of wing it? Is that better than no trainings?

Brian: Yes.

Steven: Yes, good.

Brian: Absolutely. And there are things you can do by yourself. There are lots of things you can do. You can have discussions at your board. What’s a personally significant gift for you? What creates anxiety for you? You can do role plays, right? And you can bring board members with you on your visits to learn where they have a small role, right? And they’re not really on the spot where at a certain point in the meeting you’re going to say, you know, I brought Brenda with me today and I’d love for Brenda to just share a little bit about her experience as a board member. And Brenda knows in advance that’s her only role. And other than that she’s there to listen and answer questions the other donor might have.

So, one way is to learn on the job, but there are lots of exercises you can do with your board. I think there’s some free ones, possibly in Asking Matters on our site, there is a . . . Andy Robinson has a site called Train your Board that he built with Andrea Kihlstedt, my co-founder, and there are lots of great materials on Train Your Board there. So yes, don’t let money stand in the way. There are many things you can do on your own and you should start with those.

Steven: Good. I love it. I’m going to send a link out to the Train Your Board website because Andrea is awesome. That’s a good one for sure.

Brian: Yeah. And they have a book. It’s only 20 some-odd bucks by the way. They have a book. I think it might be cool “Train Your Board” or something like that, and it’s got dozens of exercises with all the how to’s. Those exercises could keep you busy for two years, and I’m sure that book is 25 bucks or 30 bucks. So, go to the site. That is a fantastic resource if you have no budget.

Steven: Cool. I love it. Next one, I got time for one more. Boy, there’s a lot of good ones. By the way, Brian, are you willing to answer the questions by email if we don’t get to all of them?

Brian: Yeah. I am. And if you want, I don’t know if you are, I’m willing to stay, let’s say five more minutes, if we can get to two or three more questions. I’m happy to do that.

Steven: Yeah.

Brian:And then yes, people can reach out to Brian at And I’ll answer some questions that way.

Brian: Cool. So pick maybe two or three more.

Steven: Yeah. Sharon here are wondering . . . I’m sorry, that’s myself too, Brian. Letter-writing, thank you letters, notes, you know, personal notes to donors, you touched on that a little bit. What’s your opinion on them spending time kind of the thank you in the stewardship piece?

Brian: Fantastic. So one of the great things . . . Everyone loves to be thanked. You can’t thank people enough, and it’s a great thing for board members to do. They’re not asking, they’re thanking, and people appreciate it. I often recommend that you ask board members to come to a meeting 10 minutes in advance and get out their cell phone and make one or two calls to donors before the meeting start while they’re there. Everyone has their phone, here, and you just give them the name of the donor, the amount, something else, and they all get on their phones and say, “You know, we’re here. We’re about to start our board meeting and all of us are reaching out to our donors to thank you because your gifts are really important to us. And so, thank you and that’s it.”

Wonderful way to use board members in a way that’s inspiring to the board members as well. And sometimes, they end up having these great conversations and sometimes they end up then cultivating those people they called in the future because they’ve established the relationships. So I think that’s a great way to use board members.

Steven: Love it.

Brian:What’s next?

Steven:How do we get committees engaged on this? So a lot of people have boards and then I think it may be it’s broken into individual committees. Do you do anything different, any special considerations for committee based organizations?

Brian: Yeah. So the key to committees is that they can’t just be oversight. They need to be making decisions, just like the board itself needs to be wrestling with things. So you don’t want committees just to have committees. There needs to be a reason for a committee to exist. On a small board, almost everything is going to be done by the whole, but on a larger board where you start to split out and you’ve got a finance committee, a fundraising committee, maybe, you know, resources or whatever it is, they should only meet if there’s a reason to be. Otherwise, board members spending all their time in meetings, it would be better, in many cases, to have fewer meetings and have them spend a little bit more time going and experiencing program and talking to program staff.

So, the key is a rich agenda and not just having meetings for the sake of it. Because there’s just nothing inspiring, right? You come to this meeting, and the staff reports, and maybe there’s a question or two, but there’s so much oversight, there’s too much oversight I think by board members of day-to-day operations and you need to move away from that to the more strategic long-term questions and decisions.

Steven: That’s good governance, right?

Brian: Yeah. And good governance is difficult but really, really important. None of this is easy, you know. It’s very easy to give the answer, but it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult working with the board and getting a board to be excellent. My feeling is yeah, you have to have one of two boards. You guys have to have a small board which is just really this fiduciary oversight board, very nimble. Because it doesn’t take that many people to answer the questions and oversee organization.

That’s why state’s attorneys in general only say, “You have to have three board members. The president, the secretary, and the treasurer.” Because they say that’s the minimum number of people it takes to oversee, so you should not have a 20 per 1,520 person board and left the boards doing really important working in a particular fundraising. And if the board is big, a lot of their work should be fundraising because that’s really where you need them the most and not bringing people on because they have a particular talent when maybe they can use that just in the committee.

Steven: That makes sense.

Brian: That’s my take on it.

Steven: Yeah. Probably last one it’s getting close to 2:05. From Kate, meetings. Who should drive the meeting? Should a staff member or should it be the board chair?

Brian: It should be the board chair.

Steven: Okay.

Brian: The executive director and the board chair must get together and agree on an agenda and go through the agenda. If you’ve got an executive committee, the executive committee is probably weighing in on that, and that agenda has to be action driven. The best thing you can do is have . . . Oh, I just forgotten the term. It just floated in my mind . . . but a consent agenda where board members get reports on any and all committees in advance and people are asked to approve all those, and then ask if there are questions. You shouldn’t have committees taking up all the time reporting. You should be using the time to have important discussions to have presentations from program staff, to have board members report on program they visited, and then to discuss the important strategic long-term questions of the organization. So, that should be an executive committee function with a lot of help from the executive director, but the board needs to be responsible and own it.

Steven: That makes sense.

Brian: So yeah, each one of these, of course, could be an hour’s discussion, but that’s actually where I come down on that other big question, but important ones.

Steven: Well, luckily, maybe we can have you back for another hour someday. Hopefully, you’ll come back.

Brian: I will. I’d be happy to. I love doing work with you, Steven and Bloomerang. And so, thank you. I want to thank you all for having me here today, and I hope that you’ve learned something and you’re inspired to try and move your board to the next level.

Steven: Nice. This is awesome, Brian. Thank you so much. And Jennifer, just chatted in that she bought that book from Andy and Andrea, so they owe us a commission I would say.

Brian: That’s good.

Steven: More you than me. Well, this was great. Thanks to all you for listening in. I know, we went a little over but hopefully, you found all the content worth it. Please let us know your thoughts. When we close this webinar, you’re going to get a little survey. Please let us know what you thought. You won’t hurt my feelings. I don’t think you’ll hurt Brian’s feelings, so we love feedback. So take the time if you don’t mind, and join us next week. We’re going to keep this going. We got a lot of webinars scheduled throughout the year.

Next week, one week from today, February 1st, we’ve got Rachel Muir who’s going to talk about New Year’s Resolutions for Fundraisers. It’s not too late even though it’s one month in. She’s got really cool ideas for you, some stuff you probably haven’t thought about. I got a peek at the slides this week. It’s going to be a good one. Got a lot of other topics scheduled. Check out the webinar page. Lots of really cool sessions planned this year. I’m excited. Not going to disappoint, just like Brian did not disappoint.

So, we’ll call it a day there. Thanks for hanging out with us for an hour or so. We’ll get you the slides and the recording. If you didn’t already get the slides, we’ll definitely get you that. Look for an email from me this afternoon and hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest to your Thursday. Have a safe weekend, and we’ll talk to you again soon.

year-end 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.