Tapping the Fundraising Potential of Your Board
By Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE
Does your association and its charitable foundation need to raise more money? Are staff members deflated and board members dejected when fundraising is on the agenda? For many volunteer leaders, the fear of rejection is a powerful deterrent to actively participating in the fundraising process. There are many reasons why people give and why they don’t. Most often, people have more reasons to say “yes” than to say “no” to a request for a contribution. But the first step is to ask.
After twenty five years of raising money for a variety of organizations, and now as a fundraising consultant, here’s what I know for sure: the success of an organization’s fundraising program rarely eclipses the fundraising capacity of its Board of Directors. Why? Because board members are volunteer advocates who are the heart and soul of philanthropy. They bring credibility and leverage to the asking process that cannot be duplicated by paid staff. That being said, a knowledgeable and committed board member combined with a professional staff member is often the “dynamic duo” of fundraising success.
Because the fear of asking for money is so great and volunteers (and staff) often look for excuses not to ask, fundraising has become primarily a soft-sell or reactive process. For example, a membership renewal is mailed that includes a check-off box for an additional gift to the charitable foundation. Members play golf and buy items at a silent auction during the annual conference. These activities raise funds and each strategy plays a role in an overall fundraising plan but successful fundraising is a proactive process. James Gregory Lord, author of “The Raising of Money” writes,
“Money is not given – it has to be raised.
Money is not offered – it has to be asked for.
Money does not come in – it has to be gone after.”
The goal of any fundraising program should be to raise funds by implementing a systematic process of identifying, cultivating, soliciting and stewarding donors. Asking people for money is both the hardest and most important part of fundraising. Without asking people one-on-one for money, the fundraising program will not move beyond annual events and mailings to reach the upper levels of giving of major, capital, and planned gifts which significantly advance the goals of the organization.
So what steps can be taken to build the confidence and tap the fundraising potential of your board?
(1) Secure 100% Board giving
Board members must each make a personal financial commitment to the organization before they ask others to contribute. This is a given. To be even more effective, the volunteer will want to give at a meaningful level. In my experience, it’s more important to have 100% personal giving by a Board than to require all board members to give the same amount. The system of asking everyone to give the same amount leaves money on the table by not asking board members capable of giving more to do so. Board members should be treated like any other prospective donor and asked to give based on their individual ability and interest
(2) Educate Board members
To be effective at raising money, board members must have two important tools: they need to (1) know and (2) be committed to the organization. It’s obvious to prospective donors when a volunteer isn’t familiar with the case for support and isn’t truly committed to the organization. In addition to a Board member orientation, utilize regular meetings to provide on-going education about the mission and activities. Share stories and real-life examples of how the organization is making a difference to the public and to the profession.
(3) Demystify fundraising
Provide training and education on fundraising to inform board members about the development process. The more they understand, the more likely they are to buy-in. Use role plays and hands-on activities to help board members overcome their fear of asking.
(4) Set up Board members for Success
Start with the lowest hanging fruit. Send board members on their first visit to someone you know is going to say “Yes!” The size of the gift is not as important as the commitment to give it. This technique works and can give new or reluctant board members the confidence they need to ask others and ask more frequently.
(5) Involve Board members in stewardship activities
Thanking and recognizing donors is an important part of the fundraising process that does not require asking for money. Asking board members to sign thank you letters (which can efficiently be done at board meetings), add personal notes to direct mail letters, and visit major and long-term givers are good ways to build their confidence and experience in the fundraising process.
(6) Include Board members in the organization’s successes
Visibly involve board members when the organization is being publicly recognized. Let them bask in the success of the organization and hear directly from the public and grateful recipients about the positive impact of the mission. These activities build their pride in the organization and help to strengthen their personal commitment.
(7) Be an Ambassador
Board members are ambassadors and need to seek out opportunities within their sphere of influence to tell the story of the organization. People must be informed about a charitable purpose before they can be expected to give financial support. Civic clubs, community and religious groups, and local and regional business associations are all opportunities to spread the word.
(8) Cultivate, cultivate, cultivate.
The goal of any fundraising program is to develop a donor, not just get a donation. Developing a donor requires time and cultivation to build long-term relationships. These relationships are the key to a robust fundraising program and generating predictable, sustainable funding. Board members play a vital role in the cultivation process and should be actively engaged in identifying prospective donors and involving them in the organization.
One last word: Hire an experience fundraising professional to guide the fundraising program. Well trained and experienced development directors can elevate the profile of your fundraising program and engage volunteers to produce the desired results. Expecting results from a staff member with other duties and no development experience will most likely doom the fundraising effort to failure. Hire the best your organization can afford and expect results. Look for fundraisers who are members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and abide by the AFP Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Practice. Fundraisers should look for a local AFP chapter in their area www.afpnet.org/chapters to get helpful resources, attend local educational programs, find a mentor, and network with peers.
Remember, donors need to be inspired to be good, regular donors. That means Board and staff members are in the inspiration business. Tell the story of your organization and how your work is changing lives. Be knowledgeable about and committed to the mission of your organization. Give first then ask others. And you have to ask.
Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, is a 25 year fundraising veteran and teaches a graduate course in fundraising at Florida State. She can be reached at email@example.com.
This column appeared in Source Magazine, state publication of the Florida Society of Association Executives. (April 2007)