Have you ever spent time with a three-year-old child? As a parent, grandparent, sibling, babysitter, teacher…whatever your role.
If the answer is “yes,” then you undoubtedly learned the following strategy.
It’s not useful to ask a young child, “What socks do you want to wear?” Instead, you offer a specific, limited set of options: “Do you want the blue socks or the green socks? Would you like the purple shirt or the one with the orange dinosaurs?”
Not to sound dismissive, but – in important ways – we’re all three-year-olds. This includes your board members.
“Will you help with fundraising?” is another not-useful question. Because it’s so imprecise, it’s bound to generate unsatisfying results.
Fundraising is not just asking for money
Novices equate the word fundraising with “the ask” – the moment when the gift is requested in person, at an event, online, through the mail, or by phone.
Taken holistically, fundraising (some professionals prefer the words development or stewardship) is really a cycle of activities.
These includes identifying prospective donors, educating and cultivating them, asking for their support, recognizing their contributions, and deepening their commitment by engaging them in the organization’s mission.
Given this framework, we need to redefine fundraising. The asking-for-money part is 10 to 15 percent of the work. Most of the effort is before and after we ask.
This is great news for trustees, since many are terrified of soliciting gifts. Bottom line: if they don’t want to be askers, that’s fine. They can actively participate in other ways.
Brainstorming board engagement
After you’ve introduced your board to the cycle of fundraising model, try this exercise. Ask them to brainstorm all the ways they could assist with any sort of fundraising.
Encourage them to think creatively, because the goal is to come up with a big list. Here are several likely items:
- Give money ourselves
- Include our organization in our estate plans
- Identify potential donors: friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, and so on
- Sign fundraising letters and add personal notes
- “Open doors” by setting up appointments to meet with prospective donors
- Participate in donor meetings (even if the board member prefers someone else to make the ask)
- Host a fundraising house party
- Promote our organization using social media
- Organize fundraising or donor recognition events
- Write thank you notes or make thank you calls
- Create a crowd-funding campaign
- Serve as an ambassador by talking about our nonprofit in the community
- Organize a board fundraising training
- Help create a fundraising plan
- Assist with grantseeking
- Figure out ways to earn income by charging for our services
Building your board fundraising menu
With your brainstormed list in hand, work together as a board to prioritize the top 10-12 items.
Even if you’re not all seasoned fundraisers, you’re likely to identify some of the best strategies, because most are self-evident: give money, provide names of prospects, add personal notes to letters, post information about your organization on social media, ask people you know to give, and so on.
Use this list as the basis for your board menu. Here’s a great example from Garden City Harvest in Missoula, Montana.
It’s structured like a restaurant menu. Each board member is expected to choose one appetizer, one entrée, and one dessert. Taken together, these three tasks comprise their personalized fundraising commitment for the year.
Do you want the blue socks or the green socks?
Your success with board fundraising will depend, in large part, on how effectively you offer people a mix of specific, time-limited tasks that they:
- Help to generate themselves, so they have ownership over the list.
- Can choose among, picking tasks they’re likely to actually follow-through on and accomplish.
They then record their choices with a board fundraising agreement. Board leaders can use these agreements to periodically check in, show support, cheer success, and encourage accountability.
Adapted with permission from Andy’s latest book, What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid: A 1-Hour Guide.