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What's the Math? Three Questions Your Board Members Really Need to Know

Reprinted from the Fired-Up Fundraising Blog

  • Where does our money go?
  • Why does it cost so much?
  • What $$ do we need to invest right now?

Have you ever presented your funding plan to your board and watched their eyes glaze over?

Here you are, laying out important strategies that can make or break your budget. These are strategies your board needs to buy into, right?

Ever make the presentation and then feel let down at the end because there was no discussion?

Here's how to rub your plan right into their brains.

This is an unusual format for discussing your organization's work, its finances, and your fundraising.

It breaks the information into small, bite-sized chunks.

This format really works for adult learners—who can be hard to reach.

And it creates an interesting—maybe even fascinating—discussion for your board members.

Even better, this discussion will bring your fundraising goals alive in a way you never thought possible.

Here's what you do:

Try a Question-and-Answer Interview

Interview your executive director in front of the board.

Or, if you are the executive director, interview your top program officers and/or knowledgeable board members.

Your goals are to be casual, go slowly, and actually talk about these questions.

This is not a presentation. Not a brain dump.

Your goal is to generate a real give-and-take discussion on these fundamentally important questions with your board members.

The board members have to chew on this content in order to actually get it.

Try This Series of Questions

I follow this format with every board retreat I do—and get amazing—sometimes astonishing—results.

"OK, now what's our annual budget?"

This is a no-brainer question, right? You've drilled this into your board members' heads, right? WRONG!

Your board members are sitting there listening, and they are thinking to themselves, "Do I know how much our budget is?"

And they actually want to hear the answer. And you tell them.

Then ask:

"OK, how much do we have to raise every year?"

Board members are sitting there thinking, "How much do we have to raise every year?" And they are suddenly more interested to know the answer.

Then ask:

"How much can we more or less count on bringing in every year, and how much do we really have to bust our butts to raise?"

This is when board members sit up in their seats. This gets their attention. They are really interested in finding out this amount.

Next switch over to programs.

"What's our top program area and about how much does it cost?"

Try asking:

  • "Why do we even need private contributions anyway?"
  • "Why does it cost so much?"
  • "Where exactly does the money go?"
  • "Why does it take so much staff to do this work?"
  • "How many people are we helping in this program?"
  • "About how much does it cost per person helped?" (Or per center that you operate? Or other measure relevant to your operation.)
  • "What else does this program really need? And how much would that cost?"
  • "How many people are we missing? What happens to them if we can’t help them?"
  • "Can you tell me a story of someone whose life was changed through this project?"
  • "What would we do if we had an additional $100k?" (Or $50k, or $500k or million—whatever is relevant to your budget size.)

When your board members start taking notes, you'll know that you are providing good information to them—info that they really want to know.

Here's what happens when you lay out this detail to board members:

They get fired up about fundraising.

Two Real-Life Examples

You can create magic with this discussion.

Here is an example:

I was working with an independent school, helping to launch the Parents Annual Fund.

I had about 30 parents in the room who had signed up to help lead the Parents Campaign. Their goal was $30,000.

So I interviewed the headmaster, the development director, and the board chair.

We got up in front of the group and sat down like we were on a TV interview show.

I asked the headmaster:

"Why do we need private contributions anyway?"

Well it turned out that tuition only covered part of the budget. (The parents started taking notes.)

Then I asked, “"Well, where does this extra $30k from the Parents Fund go?"

Turns out that they used it to supplement teachers' salaries. Turns out that the teachers didn't make as much as public school teachers there. We pulled out specific numbers comparing public school salaries to this school's teachers' salaries. (Parents kept taking notes avidly.)

Then I asked, "Why are scholarships important?"

We had a discussion about why diversity was so very important.

Then it turned out that the athletic director needed extra money to buy sports uniforms for the scholarship kids. They couldn't afford to buy them.

The parents scribbled away. They were interested, informed, satisfied, and ready to get to work.

What did they get? They were armed with the exact info they needed to raise money for the Parents Fund.

Their "ask" would not be about money. It would be about the school and what the kids needed.

They didn't have to ask for money. Instead they could ask for specifics. And they could say exactly what the money was for.

Fundraising was about the kids and not the money.

Here's another example:

I was working with a hospital foundation in Canada that had some of the wealthiest people in town on the board.

I was interviewing the president of the hospital about where the money goes and why we even needed private contributions.

I asked him, "What investments do you really need to make here at the hospital?"

And he said he needed a certain medical testing technology that cost a million dollars.

I asked him why he needed this million-dollar technology.

He said that when a patient at the hospital needed this test, they had to ambulance that person across town to another hospital. He said he was worried about medical outcomes for the patient who had to be transported.

You should have seen the board members.

They were staring at him in rapt attention.

Some were taking notes. They started asking questions.

It was a breakthrough discussion for this group of powerful board members.

Then at the break, guess what one board member said to him:

"I think I know where we can get the million dollars for that technology."

Bottom Line

Try this format and you will create something new.

You'll engage your board members in both your finances and your fundraising. You'll create a fascinating discussion.

You'll bring alive what you usually present in boring reports and presentations.

And you'll fire up your board members for fundraising!

Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE
© 2012, Gail Perry. Reprinted from the Fired-Up Fundraising Blog. Reprinted with permission.

3-questions-board-members-need-to-know_gail-perry.jpgGail Perry is the author of Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action and founder of Gail Perry Associates, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based consulting and training firm.



Topics: Board Development