Note: This guest post is from our colleague Amy Eisenstein, one of the country’s leading fundraising consultants and trainers. Thanks Amy!
Your board members are essential for successful fundraising, especially when it comes to major gift fundraising. Unfortunately, fundraising doesn’t come naturally to most board members, which means they need training.
A lot of training.
In fact, most board members have no idea what’s really involved. Many are terrified just by the idea of fundraising.
Sometimes the fear is so extreme that nonprofit professionals go to great lengths to assure incoming board members that, to serve on the board, they won’t need to raise funds. Sound familiar?
This can become a vicious cycle. You might end up with a board full of people who’ve agreed to serve with the understanding that they don’t need to help raise funds.
The key is to train your board in a way that’s fun, engaging, and educational. This is not simply a “once a year” concept. I encourage you to train your board all year long.
A Favorite Resource for Training Any Board
One of my favorite activities as a consultant is facilitating board retreats and working with reluctant board members to improve their fundraising. It’s a true joy to see the “light bulb moment” when they realize how simple (and even fun!) fundraising can be.
Fundraising is not about arm-twisting or begging. Fundraising is about providing an opportunity for people to invest in an important cause that they care about.
The utterly fabulous book Train Your Board by Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson is one of my go-to resources on board training. Even though I’ve facilitated board retreats for almost ten years, I still take a quick flip through this veritable cookbook of board training recipes/exercises before planning an agenda for a new retreat.
How High Will Your Board Go?
A favorite exercise is How High Will You Go?, which encourages board members to think about their own giving capacity in a powerful way. Trustees are asked to close their eyes and imagine two amounts:
- The normal amount they might give
- The highest amount they would consider giving this year (or perhaps during a campaign)
Without revealing the numbers, board members are then asked to write ideas about what might encourage them to give the higher amount.
The real magic happens during the debriefing, as the group actively discusses how the organization can meet the ideas expressed. Board members could say, for example, I might give the higher amount if:
- My gift was matched
- I had a better understanding of the need
- There was a clear sense of urgency
- I felt my gift could make a difference
The group then goes on to discuss how they think others make their giving decisions. It’s a truly powerful and enlightening exercise.
Regular Board Training Works!
I encourage you to not only train your board members at your annual retreat, but also at every board meeting. Rather than reading another fundraising department report, facilitate a group discussion or mini-training session instead.
If you’re looking for more ideas to engage your board, here’s a quick video on that introduces the simplest way to get your board involved with fundraising – creating a Thank You Army.
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