07 Nov 4 Quick & Easy Ways to Increase Your Board’s Fundraising Impact
My favorite question to ask when leading a board retreat is, “How many of you like asking for money?” Usually, only one or two hands go up.
My second favorite question, as an immediate follow-up, is, “How many of you are passionate about this organization and would do anything to advance its mission?”
You guessed it – All hands go up.
Thus, the conundrum… what do you do when you have a Board of well-intended volunteers who believe whole-heartedly in your mission and contribute on a regular basis BUT simply cannot ask for a gift? We have all heard the hard-core fundraising advisors that say, “Give and Get or Get Off.” Seems a bit harsh, especially when it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new board members in an age where competition among nonprofits for dedicated volunteers is fierce.
In the community college sector, where I have spent most of my fundraising career, foundation board members often have tenures of 10 -15 years and many of these board members were recruited when fundraising wasn’t one of the Board’s top priorities. Fast forward to today, where fundraising is a critical piece of the community college foundation core mission – needs have eclipsed the skill-set composition of many boards.
The challenge of having a non-fundraising board isn’t unique to community colleges. In fact, BoardSource has identified fundraising as “The Board’s #1 Challenge.” Though the details of how your organization ended up with a board that is averse to or ill-equipped to fundraise may vary, the challenge remains: fundraising is a critical responsibility of today’s nonprofit boards. A wholesale change of these non-fundraising boards is usually not an option and not a solution that helps the organization nor the dedicated volunteers.
So instead of jettisoning these board members, some progressive organizations are taking steps to assess and match board member strengths to non-solicitation phases of the giving cycle — Prospect Identification & Research > Cultivation > Engagement > Stewardship.
Board members can serve meaningful and important roles in the following ways:
- Prospect Identification Teams – Convene a group of board members to review and provide intel on potential funders. I have learned that no wealth researching software can rate and rank prospects more accurately than a room full of individuals conducting a peer to peer assessment.
- Cultivation – A personal testimonial stating why someone is passionately involved in a cause provides instant credibility and convinces prospects the worthiness of these organizations. Having Board members simply join a solicitor on an ask and share a first-hand testimonial is a powerful tool in the solicitation process.
- Engagement – There are many sectors of the nonprofit industry, such as community colleges, domestic violence shelters, and humane societies, that are notorious for having multitudes of special events. Strategically leveraging board members to invite potential stakeholders to attend events as a personal guest is a great way to bring new leadership and possible funders to the table.
- Stewardship – We love to thank funders… we send letters, notes, emails, and texts… we have donor events, scholarship receptions, etc. How about having a stewardship committee of board members who simply pick up the phone, call, and personally thank a funder? I know of several colleges who have implemented this and found that the personal touch makes a huge difference in stewarding funders.
To increase accountability, you can also include these strategies in your yearly goals. For example, The Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) in Monaca, PA included a “5-1 Plan” as part of every Foundation Board member’s goals. Each board member was asked to do two things:
- Introduce either the college president or the Vice President of Advancement to five new prospects over the course of the fiscal year, and
- Host one awareness event at either their home or place of business as a way to introduce new stakeholders to the college.
As you can see, having a strong fundraising board is about much more than filling seats with check writers and individuals who are willing to “make the ask.” By taking the time to find, honor, and celebrate every board member’s unique set of skills, you can both significantly improve the impact the board has on your organization’s overall fundraising strategy AND enhance the volunteer experience and offer new opportunities for prospects to engage with the organization.