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How to engage your Board of Directors in fundraising

Updated: May 19, 2021

Is your board of directors reluctant to help with fundraising? That’s okay. Tell them they don’t have to fundraise. Instead ask them if they would be willing to build authentic meaningful relationships with people who love your mission as much as they do.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a world where your board of directors was engaged in and excited about raising money for your cause. If this were your reality you would probably receive frequent phone calls from board members about prospective donors. You might see your board members in person between board meetings to have strategic discussions. You might have frequent visitors in the office to help make thank you calls and at events your board members would lift spirits by helping donors feel welcome and appreciated.

What would it be like to work with board members who were out in your community acting as ambassadors for your cause and providing opportunities for people who care about your mission to get involved?

Believe it or not there are actually organizations that work this way. Perhaps not with 100% of the board members, but, it is possible to get the majority of your board involved in and passionate about your fundraising program. This transformation starts by completely changing the organization’s expectations of board members.

No solicitation required

Has anyone in your organization ever said the following?

“I would rather give the organization $20,000 than go and ask four of my friends for $5,000.”

“I’m not asking my network anymore. They are tapped out.”

Imagine how it must feel to be alienated from your friends because they don’t want you to ask them for money. Or worse, to be pressured into giving to causes you don’t care about because you need to pay back the favour.

Time to change the conversation

I’d like to start a movement where we tell our board members that: “It is okay, you do not have to open your Rolodex. You do not have to ask your neighbours to support this cause. You do not have to do anything that you do not feel 100% comfortable doing.” In order to be more “donor centred”, let’s start with being more “board centred.”

The pressure to fundraise is often the most avoided, misunderstood and onerous task for board members. When you grant permission to NOT ask for money, a beautiful thing happens: people visibly relax. Their eyes soften, they breathe and start to listen. When you literally tell your board they don’t need to ask for money an enormous weight is lifted and the relationship between staff and board changes and immediately becomes more productive.

Does that mean the board doesn't have to help with fundraising? Absolutely not! It is just a different conversation. Here is how it works.

Changing expectations

As part of some work I was doing with a charity to build a major gift program I conducted a telephone survey followed by a workshop with the board of directors.

The survey started with the question: “Do you think the board should be involved in fundraising?” The answer was as expected. Ninety percent of members said: “No.” They felt strongly that it was not their job to ask for money or find prospective donors.

I then asked if they felt the work was important? Was the cause worthy of funding? Why did they join the board and what do they love about the mission? We had consensus that yes, the mission was important and worthy of funding.

I ended the survey by then asking: Of the following philanthropic activities which would you be willing to participate in?

  1. thank you phone calls

  2. telephone surveys

  3. cultivation visits

  4. partner with staff on solicitation visits

  5. hosting a small event

Not surprisingly, 100% of members agreed to participate in some kind of philanthropic activity.

At the board workshop I started the day by sharing the results of the survey. Which were:

  1. The majority of the board did not want to ask for money.

  2. The majority of the board felt that the cause was worthy of support

The majority of the board wanted to be involved in activities that would create a philanthropic culture.

Then we spent the rest of the day talking about donor motivations, philanthropy and the business of fundraising – the transformation was instant. At the end of the day, the board was aligned around advancing a philanthropic culture and the major gift program started to get serious traction and raise a significant amount of money.

Stop twisting arms

The concept of “I’ll give to your organization if you give to mine” is grossly out of date. Arm-twisting does nothing to help build sustainable fundraising programs. You may get a gift that was motivated by social connections one year, but it is highly unlikely the gift will be repeated. In order to want to make a significant investment in your cause a donor needs to care about your cause.

So, instead of asking your board members who they know that has the ability give, start asking them who they know that may care about the cause?

Advancing a philanthropic culture

In order to actually make a shift to a more philanthropic cultu

re, I encourage you to start with your board of directors. Stop pressuring them to ask for money and start facilitating authentic relationships between your board of directors and people who are truly interested in your cause. The joyous by-product of this work is that you will ultimately raise more money to advance the mission of your organization.

If you are interested in learning more about how this approach has worked for other organization I’ve worked with I’d love to hear from you! Don't hesitate to book a free coaching session with me.

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