It’s easy to kvetch about our board members, isn’t it? See if any of these statements (or all of them) resonate with you:
“They think it is all about finding the next big corporate sponsor, rather than taking care of current donors and donating themselves.”
“A board that doesn’t understand it’s governance & resource development responsibilities and decides to micromanage operations instead.”
“100% do not give every year.”
“They feel like fundraising is slimy or beneath them.”
“They don’t know how to fundraise but they want to tell the staff what they need to do in fundraising.”
What is it about boards and fundraising? And what can you do to create a culture of philanthropy and a board that is genuinely excited about fundraising? Here are four tips to get you started…
1. 100% board giving.
No ifs, ands, or buts on this one. What does it say to the public, to your donors, to potential funders, if 100% of your board doesn’t contribute financially?
No, every board isn’t made up of the region’s heavy hitters and movers and shakers. But monthly giving allows your charter school teacher board member with two kids in college to spread her $240 gift throughout the year in $20 a month payments — and it’s a great way to kick off your monthly giving program.
2. Appreciate the donors you have.
Chances are your donors aren’t ‘feeling the love’ like they should be. Early on in my fundraising career, I was fortunate to stumble across an article by change agent Hildy Gottlieb that went on to define the way I worked with boards. The article is called The Sound a Thank You Makes and you can download it here. After reading that article, I made it a daily practice to spend my first 15-30 minutes, every day, focusing in on gratitude.
Saying ‘thank you’ is an ideal first job for your board members, whether you’re sending them a short list of three to five individuals to call every week, or providing them with note paper, pens and a thank you note script at board meetings. Create a system for board stewardship.
3. Consistent training.
Few people are natural born fundraisers. We, however, know this stuff — so it’s our job to empower our board members in the right way to fundraise (otherwise they’ll be pestering you to organize the next big gala (groan!), or asking you to write a grant proposal to the Bill Gates Foundation, or micromanaging your next appeal letter).
While a yearly board retreat is a great start, I believe that, in order for training to be effective, it needs to be fun, it needs to be donor-focused, and it needs to be consistent.
- Regularly send out links to some of the best fundraising articles, or subscribe your board members to a weekly newsletter, such as The Grow Report. Better yet, involve your board in a year-long training program, such as Simple Development Systems.
- Integrate a short training into every board meeting. You’ll find plenty of examples in the new book, Train Your Board and Everyone Else to Raise Money, by Andrea Kihlstedt and Andy Robinson
- Involve your board members in the process. Invite a board member to attend your next foundation site visit. Bring a board member along on a day when you’ve made plans to shadow a program officer to learn more about a particular program. Poll them regularly to learn of any foundation trustee connections.
- Create a habit of celebrating every little success. When you reach 100% board participation, celebrate it! Perhaps with a pizza party at your next board meeting, or by breaking out a bottle of champagne. A board member has brought in three new donors? Send them a thank you gift or present a token of your gratitude publicly at your next board meeting. Celebrate what you want to see more of.
4. Meet one on one.
Why oh why do we continue to think of our board as an entity? Boards are made up of individuals, and it’s always beneficial to get to know your board members on a one-to-one basis. When I took the time to meet with a quiet member of one board, an heiress who had been invited to serve because, well she was an heiress, I learned that she had some great ideas and really wanted to contribute in ways other than financially. But in board meetings our more vocal members had taken the lead and she hadn’t felt comfortable making her thoughts known.
Remember, building a culture of philanthropy absolutely will not happen overnight. It takes patience, consistency and commitment. And, as the development director (or executive director) you are primarily responsible for building a culture of philanthropy, and developing a board that is actively engaged in fundraising.
Don’t ask for permission to lead.
Let me repeat that: Do not ask for permission to lead. Take the reins and be prepared to lead your organization’s staff, board and yes even your executive director.
Looking for a plan to turn your board members into engaged ambassadors and enthusiastic fundraisers? Registration for my latest Basics & More™ fundraising fundamentals course, Empowering Your Fundraising Board is open now. Click here to enroll.