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Six Things Your Board Needs to Know about Fundraising

TOP: Donate Now stamp. Bottom: The words Thank You with a drawing of purple flowers beside them.If your board struggles with fundraising, you’re not alone.

In my work supporting nonprofit organizations, the number one request—by far—is board fundraising training. The demand seems endless.

The following tips, adapted from my book How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone, provide a quick introduction to the whys and hows of boards and fundraising. Perhaps you’ll want to share with your leadership and committees.

Fundraising isn’t complicated

Although the idea of fundraising as a profession has taken hold in recent decades, I keep returning to something I heard Joan Flanagan, the author of several fundraising books, say years ago. “All the knowledge about fundraising can be summed up in 10 words,” Joan said. “Ask ’em, thank ’em, ask ’em again, thank ’em again.”

At heart, fundraising is pretty simple. It’s one person asking another to get involved, provide help, take a stand, join a movement, to feel good. Yes, there are strategies and techniques, but they are far less important than the one quality you need to be successful: passion for the mission.

Fundraising isn’t begging

When they’re new to fundraising, a lot of people feel like they’re down on their knees, staring up at the donor. They feel like beggars. Reject this metaphor. Your donors give you money, which is terrific. But look at what you’re giving them: a chance to participate in the work, to ensure that a critical service is provided to the community, to make the world a better place. Heck, they even get a tax break if they want it.

The definition of begging is something for nothing. The definition of fundraising is something for something. When you solicit a charitable gift, you’re exchanging one thing of value for something else of value. The key work is exchanging.

There’s plenty of money to go around

After “No,” maybe the most annoying word in fundraising is competition. With more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the US, it’s undeniably true that donors have a lot of options. The problem is, competition implies winners and losers fighting for finite resources. Philanthropy isn’t like that—it’s not scarce. There’s enough money to take care of us all. Most people who give spread it around. According to some studies, the typical donor family supports 5 to 10 organizations per year, and millions of contributors support 10 or more charities annually.

Before asking others, give money yourself

There’s karma in fundraising, and I can pretty much guarantee that if you’re not giving, you’re not getting. I don’t believe in board quotas—“Every board member has to give at least $1,000”—but I do strongly believe that all board members must give to the best of their abilities. Here’s appropriate language from a board agreement or job description that lays out your mutual expectations: “I commit to making a personal donation; our organization will be one of the top three charities I support each year I am on the board.” There’s no way to enforce this promise—you’re not going to subpoena everyone’s checkbook—but it sets the right tone.

Asking in person is best

The most effective way to raise money is face to face. This strategy has several advantages:

  • You can talk with prospects to learn how their interests dovetail with the work of your organization.

  • You can make the case in a personal way by communicating your passion for the mission.

  • You can respond directly to questions or concerns.

  • You demonstrate your commitment to the cause. Not only are you giving your time and money, you’re showing courage by meeting with donors to solicit their support.

  • And here’s the clincher: people will give you 5 to 10 times more money in person than they’ll send you through the mail or give online, and 2 to 3 times more money in person than they’ll donate over the phone.

Show gratitude in a thoughtful way

On Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, my father used to go to local elementary schools to speak about his experiences in World War II. He was a good storyteller and had lots of pictures, so he readily engaged the kids. Once the presentation was over and he left, the teachers would hand out crayons and say, “Please write a thank-you to Mr. Robinson.”

Many kids drew pictures of explosions—after all, these are ten-year-olds listening to war stories—but some were surprisingly thoughtful. One student wrote, “I never knew my grandfather, but I knew he was in the war, and now I have a way to think about him.” Another wrote, “Mr. Robinson, you da’ bomb!”

Obviously, my father was both moved and tickled by these notes. They reinforced his desire to go back into the school and do it again. If you can build a similar bridge of thanks between the people who benefit from your work and those who pay for it, imagine the impact.

Andy RobinsonAndy Robinson is author of How to Raise $500 to $5000 from Almost Anyone, from which this article is adapted. His other books include What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid; Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money, co-authored with Andrea Kihlstedt; and The Board Member's Easier Than You Think Guide to Nonprofit Finances, co-authored with Nancy Wasserman.

Topics: Nonprofit boards and fundraising Nonprofit Boards