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Board fundraising: A turnaround case study

I know an organization where board members describe themselves as “not a fundraising board.” Without feeling guilty about it. And without even a hint of curiosity about what impact that posture has on the organization. The organization has thrived on a diet of corporate grants and event sponsorship. The board reflects that reality: they are high level executives, and they know how to secure contributions from their corporations.

The organization also has a passive direct mail program, an energetic online giving program, and an awesome volunteer program. Over time, they have developed an enviable donor list, with no personal contact with donors beyond an occasional thank you voicemail.

But change is afoot. A newly-constituted development committee is on fire. Each member of the committee has agreed to cultivate a portfolio of 8-12 donors. That cultivation includes inviting the donors to free events, showing them around at the annual gala, thanking them when they make gifts, and forwarding monthly good-news emails that the development staff will provide. The committee members understand that their goal is try to get to know the donors, and pass on what they learn to the development staff. Even more exciting, they have declared they want to invite the every other member of the board to take on a portfolio, after they have refined the system.

What happened? I can point to a few factors.

  1. The board trashed the uniform “give or get” policy in favor of an expectation of personal support. It is painless for board members to get their hand into the corporate cookie-jar. But now they are expected to write checks from their own personal checking accounts, in addition to whatever corporate donations they can finagle. It signals a different expectation of engagement.
  2. The development team started scheduling tours of the facility and other opportunities for donors to learn about the organization without buying a ticket. This signals a change from focusing on development activities to a focusing on relationships with donors.
  3. The development staff sat down one on one with each board member and asked, “how do you want to be involved?” You can learn amazing things if you ask.
  4. There is new blood. It always helps to have a few new board members who haven’t yet learned the “we are not a fundraising board” mantra.

What does this mean for your organization? Here are some tips:

  1. Don’t assume your board members will dive into fundraising based on subtle nudges. You can talk about “fiduciary responsibility” until you are blue in the face, and every member of the board is blue in the ears. Most board members will not understand that you mean you want them to help with development.
  2. Make it possible for donors and prospects to learn about your organization in non-solicitation settings. Who would want to get involved with an organization that asked for a gift on the first encounter?
  3. Give board members options about how to get involved. Maybe some of them don’t want to introduce you to their friends.

Paul JollyThe preceding is a guest post by our regular contributor Paul Jolly, founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc. ( Paul worked as a fund raising professional for over 20 years before starting the consulting firm Jump Start Growth. His successes include leading three capital campaigns for organizations new to major gifts fund raising, securing millions of dollars in bequest and planned gift commitments, and bringing new life and laser-sharp focus to disheartened development departments.

Topics: Nonprofit Leadership and Practice