5 ways to transform timid board members into confident fundraisers
Alexander Sanger, Advisory Director of International Planned Parenthood Federation Western Hemisphere Region, recently shared his story of fundraising pride and glory on our blog, proclaiming that donating feels better than getting a root canal. I was particularly struck by his ideas about how fundraising is giving others the chance to feel good and be part of something larger than themselves. His story got me thinking about my own experiences as a board member. I’m currently serving as board chair for the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), and was previously a board member for the Anti-Violence Project and The Entrepreneurial Development Institute. For years, I’ve wondered, if donating makes us feel good, then why is it so hard to get your board members to donate or raise money? I believe the answer lies in training and knowledge sharing. It’s a problem you can fix!
In their annual nonprofit governance index, Leading with Intent, Boardsource continually ranks fundraising as the biggest weakness among nonprofit boards. In the 2015 report, 43% of board chairs surveyed said that they think their board members are uncomfortable asking for money. Consider your board for a moment. Despite a discussion of fundraising expectations during recruitment, are almost half of your board members nervous/anxious/scared when it comes to raising money for your organization?
So how can you get your board members feeling both prepared and motivated to give and get for your organization? As development or communications staff, your job is to provide them with the confidence and tools they’ll need to get involved. Here are five things I’ve seen work well:
Discover each board member’s passion. In one-on-one conversations or as part of a group discussion at your next board meeting, find out why they joined (or remain) on your board. What is it about your mission and serving on your board that gets them going? If possible, keep track of those responses and periodically send them updates that tie into their motivation. If a particular program inspires them, invite them to see that program in action. If an advance in research or a policy issue is what drives their commitment, ask them to join you for a special briefing. If your annual conference is a personal highlight, make sure to leverage that in-person time to connect them with others. Many organizations include program updates in every meeting to help keep that passion alive.
Align yourself toward the same big vision. We define vision statements as an articulation of the better world you are trying to achieve. Vision statements are often revisited or clarified during a strategic planning process, and potentially refined after developing brand strategy. If you have a vision statement, analyze its “motivation index.” Does the statement paint a clear picture of the future you imagine and are working toward creating? When nonprofits work with us on brandraising projects, I tend to see vision statements that are either focused solely on the organization’s growth or full of so much jargon that the reader gets bored by the second line. If you find that your vision statement lacks motivation OR you don’t even have one, consider having a discussion at your next board meeting regarding what each board member envisions for your future. I often find that the question, “Imagine we were to go out of business next year. What would the world lose?” is a provocative set-up for eventually landing on your organization’s raison d’être. Getting that vision statement right can be essential to motivating both your board members and your donors.
Figure out how to tell your story—and then practice telling it. Exactly what do you do and why does it matter? Another common element of our brandraising work is helping nonprofits tell their story through a strong platform of key messages, boilerplate, and elevator pitch. The elevator pitch gives everyone—board and staff alike—a simple one- or two-sentence response to those wondering just who you are. Getting everyone to start this conversation the same way, with a consistent and compelling explanation, can help prospective donors get a better understanding of what you do. Being able to explain your work with confidence is key to being a good fundraiser.
Expand thinking on roles and responsibilities. Kay Sprinkel Grace touts the virtues of a Triple A board, one where board members are ambassadors, advocates, and askers. As she defines it, an ambassador makes friends and builds relationships; an advocate makes the case and recruits others; and an asker makes the ask and raises funds. If you want your board to be good askers, you need to also give them the tools to be good ambassadors and advocates. Kay suggests that you have each board member complete a survey (example in the link above) of how they want to be involved in each category, and notes that staff will provide training and materials to match each member’s desired fulfillment of those roles. You can see the set of survey questions in the link above. Consider asking your board members to fill it out before your next meeting or via one-on-one conversations.
Make it easy for board members to be fundraisers. Getting your donors to be fundraisers comes with its own set of positives and negatives, but I’m generally a fan. In recent years, it has become a lot easier to have board members set up fundraising pages where the ask for support is practically as easy as sharing the link on Facebook. As a board member, it makes me feel good that I can attract more money than I can personally give, and it gives me a chance to engage my friends in work I believe in. For example, last year I was able to raise $1,112 for NTEN as part of their year-end fundraising campaign—more than 5% of the total campaign total of $20,777. Being a member of the team of champions who helped raise those funds gave me the warm fuzzies and led to positive results for the organization.
Beyond these five practices, it also helps to have a fundraising strategy and plan to communicate and engage donors year-round, create clear give/get policies, and provide periodic group and individual evaluations of each board member. These tools can certainly help jumpstart your work to turn the challenge of board fundraising into an opportunity to spread joy among those who should be your best promoters.