A key responsibility of nonprofit board members is to assure that the organization has sufficient resources to fulfill its mission. There are many indirect aspects of this—helping with outreach in the community, serving on a finance committee to provide fiduciary oversight, etc. But the most direct and perhaps most impactful is fundraising. While many board members embrace the prospect of helping with fundraising, others run in the opposite direction.
Most folks who aren't regularly engaged in fundraising equate the entire process with "The Ask." There are, however, plenty of steps leading up to and following the actual ask that a board member who is uncomfortable with asking for donations can help with. Here are the top ways in which volunteers can help with resource development and without realizing they're actually fundraising.
1. Advice Visits
The old saw is "Ask for money and you'll get advice; ask for advice and you'll get money." Would that it could be so easy every time. But it is true that it's much easier to get in front of prospects asking for their wisdom than asking for their treasures. Most people are flattered and happy to share their perspectives.
I recall meeting with an individual who would have made a perfect prospect, but that wasn't why we were approaching him. I started the conversation by saying that I just wanted to get his thoughts and not ask him for anything. We had a very productive discussion. He opened our minds to some new possibilities and offered to make introductions to individuals whom we would not otherwise have been able to approach. That was the beginning of a series of conversations that culminated in many fruitful contacts—and ultimately a gift from the original advisor. He insisted! That original contact came from a volunteer who was not comfortable with fundraising but was willing to help us get the advice we needed.
2. Opening Doors
I had a board member who was adamant that there was no way she could ever do any fundraising. She had fantastic relationships with the right people in the community, but was uncomfortable asking—or even arranging for someone else to ask—for donations from friends. We discovered that she had a close connection to the leader of a family foundation. This foundation’s work was 100 percent in alignment with our organization. I asked the board member just to send an e-mail introduction so we could exchange programmatic ideas.
Our two organizations had been in the same circles without intersecting until that introduction was made. After that initial contact, the board member was out of the loop and didn't have to worry about any perceptions in the community that she was asking friends for money. (Even though we all know that it's normal for friends to ask each other to support their organizations' projects.) The upshot of that initial introduction was a four-year gift totaling $160,000 and a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship between the two organizations. I always made a point of bragging about this board member "who can't do fundraising" and the support she brought into the organization.
3. Thanking Donors
We all know that you can't thank donors too often, but staff time constraints often make going beyond the minimum a challenge. Our plan for thanking donors always started with staff—a call and thank-you letter. These were almost expected by donors. But our thank-yous really got noticed when board members—especially those who wanted to help but not get in front of prospects—got involved with the thank-you process. The power of a phone call from a volunteer or a handwritten note is amazing. The proof was when a donor would make a point of commenting on the nice call or handwritten thank-you note he or she had received from a board member.
Development directors and CEOs will often begin a fundraising campaign by reviewing prospects with board members to find existing connections. Just as with other fundraising efforts, some board members are very engaged in the process and come to the table with dozens of connections to make. Other board members sit quietly because they don’t want to be providing introductions to their circle of friends.
One way to engage those quiet volunteers is to ask for their help in developing strategies for approaching prospects. They will often have inside knowledge of the relationships among the wealthy and who or what approach is most likely to be successful. But perhaps the best payoff I've had in these situations is developing a longer-term strategy for getting in front of individuals or organizations that have no connection with the nonprofit.
The added bonus of involving non-development-minded board members in the resource-development process is that it energizes them and contributes to their feeling that they are doing meaningful work for the nonprofit. This often leads to increased engagement by the board member, which opens up even more potential in the future. It certainly takes an investment of time and effort, but invariably pays off!
The preceding is a guest post by Bill Hoffman. Bill Hoffman & Associates, LLC and has over 30 years’ expertise in various aspects of the nonprofit sector, working in organizational leadership; program design, implementation, and management; board development and training; and strategic planning. He also serves as a volunteer on local and national nonprofit boards, currently chairing the National School Foundations Association. He has written and present on such topics as strategic planning, board development, community and volunteer engagement, organizational development and performance, and best practices; you can find his writings and prsentations in national, regional, and state publications and symposia. He is also an adjunct professor at National University, teaching Nonprofit Leadership and Board Development.