If you ask fundraising professionals to describe their deepest and most enduring fantasy, the answer would sound something like this: “Give me a wealthy board filled with wealthy people who will ask their wealthy friends for money.”
Sure, those boards exist, but they are very, very rare. Unless you work with a legacy institution – a university, a hospital, a major cultural organization – you are unlikely to have that board. Ever.
Fantasies can be fun, but they distract us from what we can realistically achieve. The good news: your current board, wealthy or not, can still raise a lot of money.
To help them succeed, you need to set clear, simple expectations and then give them the tools and training to do the work.
Task 1: Give Money
Everyone on your board needs to make a gift based on their financial ability. This is essential because:
- There’s karma in fundraising, and you can’t ask others to do what you are unwilling to do yourself.
- It’s a litmus test. If people are unwilling to invest in your organization, do they deserve to lead it?
- Many grantmakers and major donors will ask, “Do you have 100% board participation? Is everyone on the board giving?” You really want to be able to answer, “Yes!”
To be clear, I don’t believe in quotas, such as, “All board members are expected to contribute at least $5000.” Your board must represent the diversity of the community you serve, which includes poor, middle-income, and well-off individuals, and you don’t want to price people out of board service.
But I strongly believe that everyone can give something, regardless of their financial circumstance.
My favorite language for your board agreement: “We expect to be one of your top three charitable commitments while you serve on the board.”
Task 2: Give Names
Back in the dark ages before social media, the average North American adult knew 150-200 people: friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, business associates, etc. Given the rise of social media, that number has undoubtedly grown larger.
70-80% of North Americans are philanthropic: they make gifts to charitable organizations. If your average board member knows 150 people, then he or she knows at least 100 donors.
Multiply this by the number of people on your board, and most nonprofits are sitting on a prospect pool of more than a thousand people they have never systematically identified, engaged, or asked.
“But I don’t want to ask my friends!” moans the fearful trustee.
Your best response: “Give us the names anyway. We’ll invite them to events. We’ll send them newsletters. Maybe we can offer volunteer opportunities. If you prefer, we will ask your permission before we solicit any money. But let’s start educating them about our work.
“If our organization is important to you, wouldn’t they be interested in knowing that?”
Task 3: Participate
As a trainer, your job is helping the board understand that the scary part of fundraising – the part where you ask for the money – is only about 15% of the work. The other 85% — prospecting, cultivation, engagement, thanking, recognition – happens before and after “the ask.”
Every board member (even the ones who are phobic about asking for gifts) can help out in many, many other ways.
Here’s a great exercise, Creating a Board Fundraising Menu that you can use with the board to identify specific fundraising tasks they can do. It includes a sample board fundraising menu borrowed from our smart colleagues at the Ohio Environmental Council.
Create your own board menu, then encourage every trustee to choose three items off the menu. When people choose their own tasks, they are more likely to take ownership and follow through.
Keep It Simple
We’ve also included a sample board fundraising agreement to track these three responsibilities: giving money, giving names, and participating in specific fundraising tasks throughout the year. It all fits on one page.
It’s a simple list: one, two, three. If your board steps up and embraces these three tasks, it will transform your fundraising.