If we want to fire up our board members for fundraising, we first need to fire them up about our organization and the good work we are doing in the world. As we know, a board that is not engaged and excited about the work at hand is not going to put itself out for fundraising.
Let's start at the beginning. How do we fire up our board? How do we reawaken their passion for our cause and reconnect them with the reason they care—so they will happily go out and raise friends and funds for our organization?
Give Board Members a Great Experience. The quality of their experience can result in either excitement and energy or inattention and disconnection. We need to give board members such a great experience that they will be engaged enough to tackle fundraising.
Give Board Members Substantive Work. Board members' energy and enthusiasm will be greatly enhanced when we offer them genuine opportunities to deal with issues of real consequence.
They want meaningful engagement in work that matters—not just attending meetings or critiquing the staff's work. We know that if the vision is powerful enough, it will help to pull them into action and trigger their enthusiasm.
Show them a possibility to get really excited about. If you can create this, then you will unleash more energy than you thought possible—from the organization and from each individual board member.
Emphasize Specific Outcomes and Results. The best way to energize a group of board members is to focus them directly on the results they need to accomplish. Give them specific jobs that have clear outcomes and a set time frame. Better yet, let them determine what those jobs are, and make their own commitments to deliver results.
The most important question for each individual trustee to answer is: What do I as a board member need to do for this organization in the next six months? Simplifying our focus to what actually needs to be done eliminates the "all talk and no action" syndrome that might creep into your board.
And what do you really need your board members to be doing? Are they more valuable to you sitting in a meeting, or do you need them to be in action out in the world making friends and connections for your organization?
Create Meaningful Board Meetings. Let's bring the passion back to board meetings. If we want our board members to tackle fundraising willingly and enthusiastically, we need to start with their principal point of contact with our organization—the board meeting itself. The meeting is a key moment that can create either enthusiasm or boredom.
The way we typically structure our meetings and agendas can drive the passion out of any organization. Robert's Rules of Order is a major culprit here. This traditional system may create a balanced, democratic format for running a meeting, but it can also be your enemy. Parliamentary procedure is not known for creating a sense of urgency, enthusiasm, or commitment to correct serious problems in the world. (See “Ways to Liven Up Your Board Meetings—and Your Board” to the right of this article for some ideas.)
Energize Meetings with Mission Moments. Give board members a set of vivid, very personal encounters with your organization's work—and with the lives that are being changed or saved in the process.
Demonstrate, beyond the power of words, the real meaning of our efforts to fill urgent human needs. Mission moments are the most powerful reminder of the reason an organization exists; they are also reminders of the reason a board member is spending his or her time in service.
We all know the power of testimonials and personal stories. Just as donors are moved by real stories to make gifts, board members are moved to action by those same experiences.
Every time there is a significant gathering of board members, bring those who benefit from your organization's work to meetings and let them share their experience directly with your board members. Or take your board members on a field trip to see your organization at work in the world.
Invite Board Members to Share Their Personal Stories. The most powerful conversations occur when board members share among themselves why they care enough to serve on the board.
I always begin my Easy Fundraising for Board Members Retreats with a simple—but very powerful—question. I ask board members to share why they care about this organization.
It is a surprise move: board members are rarely asked to share personal perspectives. I contend it is more important to have them talking about their personal passion for the organization's work than it is for them to hear report after report. You may be amazed to find out what people believe in.
This is the conversation to have over and over with your board members. Help them remember what they all care about the most, and you can quickly reinvigorate even the most routine meeting.
Create a Sense of Community and Collegiality. Social time helps develop healthy relationships, teamwork, and a sense of collegiality among board members. Remember that your board members want to meet each other and make new business and social contacts.
If they are all strangers to each other, how can they work effectively as a group to make wise decisions guiding your organization? Scheduling social time among board members is an absolute must that is too often ignored in the effort to use board members' time expeditiously and wisely. Often the casual conversations that occur during breaks or lunch foster deeper discussions of important issues as well as closer relationships among board members.
When the board members share this sense of friendship, they create a positive atmosphere that fosters trust and respect for each other. When your board members feel they are all in this together, then they will be more willing to put their shoulders to the wheel and raise money.
Name Tags Are Absolutely Essential. Name tags should be required for every board function, if you want to help your board members get to know each other. Providing name tags is simply good manners. There is no excuse for ignoring this essential aid for your board.
Help Your Board Members Enjoy Themselves. Life is short, and volunteer hours are precious. Board members should have an experience of actually enjoying their volunteer time with you. There is no rule that says nonprofit work has to be dreary.
If your organization can offer pleasant social experiences, your board members might come to meetings not just out of duty but also out of enjoyment. And happy board members who are enjoying themselves will work more effectively together as a team.
Fun is not what board members expect—but it brings energy and excitement to your cause.
ConclusionWe can all—board members and staff members alike—take more responsibility where the board is concerned. If we choose to make the effort to fire up our board, we will be rewarded with trustees who are active, interested, and much more willing to tackle fundraising.
Read the other articles in this series:
- "Five Fundraising Mistakes We Make with Our Boards"
- "The Myths and Realities of Board Members and Fundraising"
- "Four Steps to Take Board Members from Fear of Fundraising to Enthusiasm"
- "No-Ask Fundraising: Six High-Impact Jobs for Board Members"
© 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 third 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.
Ways to Liven Up Your Board Meetings—and Your Board
- Focus the agenda on results. Decide what is needed most out of the meeting and tell your board members: "By the end of this meeting, we need to accomplish x, y, and z." That will get their attention.
- Be creative with the agenda. Look for ways to tweak the meeting plan to evoke your board members' passion for your cause. Perhaps there's a way of presenting a report that is more song-and-dance and less a dry recital of figures. Think of ways that you can humanize any presentation and bring it to life.
- Consider occasionally throwing out the agenda altogether. Although radical, consider the benefits: the board creates its own agenda by consensus at the beginning of the meeting. That way everyone is immediately paying more attention to the work that needs to get accomplished.
- Focus on problems, challenges, or ambiguous issues. This approach will activate your board members' various backgrounds and skills sets, not to mention their interest. It will allow you to draw upon a deeper reservoir of their talent and energy and will give them more interesting work.
- Plan big. Bring big-picture strategic planning issues into regular board meetings. For example, work SWOT analysis (strategic planning focusing on organizational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) into regular meeting agendas.
- Look at your board meetings as cheerleading sessions designed to fire up your board members and put them into action.
- Use consent agendas for routine business items that do not require much board discussion.
- Interview the CEO. Consider allowing time for the board members to interview the CEO about what is on his or her mind. What keeps the CEO up at night?
- Let the board members do the talking. They will be far more interested in the work at hand. Set up agendas with 70 percent of the time in conversation and 30 percent listening to presentations.
- Always choose one interesting item and set it up for a discussion.