How do we harness our board members' passion for the cause and channel it into productive fundraising activities?
Here are practical, easy ways your board members can open the door, connect their friends to your organization, expand your organization's social networks, and help you find new friends and donors—without having to solicit.
1. Make Friends for the CauseWe need to capitalize on our board members' personal social networks to further our organization's urgent work solving community problems. So the job is clear: we have to ask our board members to introduce our organization to everybody they know.
Your board members need to be roaring advocates for your organization; they need to talk about it wherever they go. They should be all over their friends, telling them why it matters and urging them to get involved.
Actually, you want your board members to start an epidemic—of ideas. Ideas are like viruses—they spread from person to person.
Your board members can launch an epidemic of good news about your cause that will spread through your community. I teach board members how to be sneezers—conveying excitement about our cause everywhere.
This is the essence of viral marketing. Word of mouth can do marvelous things for a nonprofit cause. It creates great community buzz.
When everybody in the community is talking about your project, fundraising then becomes a natural outgrowth of all the energy and enthusiasm generated for your cause. This kind of visibility and background PR is absolutely essential for good fundraising.
2. Identify Your Organization's VIP FriendsWho are the important people who could affect your organization's future? Who should be on your radar screen? I call them VIPs—for Very Important Prospects.
These individuals may be civic, political, philanthropic, religious, corporate, or social leaders in your community. They may also be among your current donors or on your prospect list.
They are important opinion leaders who can influence many other people. The VIPs may also be the "sneezers" in your community, easily spreading the news about your organization.
Compiling this list is a great job for board members. When trustees tackle this job, they naturally begin considering who knows these people and how to open the door to them. They start prioritizing the list and creating strategies to cultivate closer relationships.
This is getting board members involved at the very beginning—developing our organization's key prospect list and looking for ways to open the door.
3. Open the Door with Advice VisitsWe all know that within our board members' social networks there is a gold mine of potential friends and donors. But how do we help them open the door to these contacts? What is a "nice" way to introduce their friends to their favorite cause? A soft-sell way that is "low pressure but high intention"?
A personal one-on-one meeting is a wonderful way to introduce a person to your organization or cause. It's an "Advice Visit," because that is truly what we are after—advice.
Advice Visits are based on the old fundraising adage "If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, then ask for money." They are treasure hunts, because when you get together personally with someone for an exploratory conversation, you are not certain what you will find. But you always end up making a friend for your cause.
This is a perfect opportunity for a board member to promote your cause in a direct, personal way. Our only goal for visiting this person is to ask them what they think of our project and ask for some serious guidance. This visit is emphatically not about money.
People are usually flattered when someone approaches them just to ask for advice. You would be surprised at the number of doors that will open if you just ask for advice. People want to help nonprofit causes, because they care about their communities, their country, and their world.
Board members love Advice Visits because the other person does the talking. They are relieved that they don't need a detailed presentation. The important points are to share their personal passion and excitement for the cause and why they are personally involved. Here are questions to ask:
- What do you think about the project?
- What about the need in the community?
- What interests you personally about the problem we are addressing?
- Who else would be interested in hearing about this?
4. Gather Friends with Small SocialsYou can expand your community relationships and make friends fast through "Small Socials." This job is perfect for social board members who have many friends and like to host gatherings.
A Small Social can take several formats. It can be a coffee, a tea, dinner, or cocktails. It can be breakfast meetings or luncheons. It can include 3 people or 100.
A Small Social must follow these rules:
- A board member or volunteer invites people to it and hosts it.
- There is no charge.
- It is a cultivation event designed to fire up people about your cause.
- A plan is in place for following up after the event.
Small Socials always have a short presentation in the midst of the socializing. The board volunteer host should welcome everyone with a few words from his or her heart sharing why he or she cares about your organization. This welcome is very powerful because it is the host's personal story, which often has more impact than a formal presentation.
Then the CEO steps forward with a high-impact message about your organization. This is the CEO's—well, actually, your organization's—chance to shine. Think passion and urgency. Think Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech—full of vision and inspiration, with a clear call to action at the end.
5. Become a Tour Guide—And Show How We Change the WorldBoard members can host tours to bring prospective friends closer to your organization. A carefully scripted tour can be a powerful way to demonstrate your organization's good work and to illustrate unmet needs in the community.
The tour lets your work speak for itself. Your guests will hear staff members or even clients/students/stakeholders express in their own words their personal firsthand experiences with your organization's mission—and the good it does—in the community.
A well-planned tour has many of the same components as the Small Social. It has the board volunteer host's welcome, the CEO's visionary message, and the same follow-up card and phone call.
6. Acknowledge Donors' GenerosityOne of the most powerful actions a board member can take is to phone to thank a donor soon after his or her gift is received.
When board members call to thank donors, the donors receive a very powerful message. They think: "This organization appreciates me," "I am a real person to this organization, not just a checkbook," "This organization is well run."
Donors who receive phone calls from board members invariably tend to give larger gifts the next time and tend to stay on board as donors longer.
Some studies have shown that donors who were called by board members within 24 hours of making a gift later made gifts that were 37 percent higher than those from donors who did not receive a call. This means that board members can directly improve your organization's bottom line without having to solicit!
ConclusionEvery board member can support your organization's fundraising—without ever asking for one red cent. There is a fundraising role for each person on your board. In my board retreats we often end by asking each board member to sign up personally for one or two of these jobs, and they are happy to do so.
Following Up on the Small Social or Tour
"What Were Your Impressions?"After board members host a Small Social or tour of your organization, they should call guests to ask, "What were your impressions of our gathering?"
This magic question is the golden key to finding out what is going on inside your prospective donors' hearts and minds. It invites them to consider the message they heard at your event and process their personal thoughts about it. It gets them involved in your cause. It gives you the information you need for a next step to bring the person even closer to your organization.
The Follow-Up CardAlso ask guests to sign a follow-up card that captures their contact information and lets them check off possible interests. The follow-up card lets people "self-select" to get further involved. Be sure to include these questions on your follow-up card:
What most interests you about our organization and our mission?
Would you like to:
- Join our mailing list?
- Host a small social or tour?
- Make a contribution for $_________?
- Other ________?
Read the other articles in this series:
- "Five Fundraising Mistakes We Make with Our Boards"
- "The Myths and Realities of Board Members and Fundraising"
- "The Fired-Up Board: Preparing Your Board Members for Fundraising"
- "Four Steps to Take Board Members from Fear of Fundraising to Enthusiasm"
© 2008, Gail Perry. Based on Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action; printed with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
This article is the fifth in a series on helping board members embrace fundraising. Gail 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. During the past 22 years, she has helped organizations raise more than $200 million—and counting.