If we think we can send board members out to fundraise without giving them tools, we might need some analysis. What are we thinking?! It’s a license for complete failure, and the proof is in the pudding. Time and again our board members fail to partner successfully with staff to develop the organization’s resources because we never show them how or provide the training.
But They’re So Successful!
Yes, we ask people to join our boards because we think highly of them. They might be successful businesspeople or impassioned community activists or enthusiastic volunteers. They might be articulate believers or prominent philanthropists. We bring them into the fold because they have a talent, track record, or other indicator of high ability or “success.” And we mistakenly translate this into an ability to fundraise.
Oftentimes board members don’t even realize what fundraising is. For most, when we say fundraising they assume it means asking everyone they know for money. That would be unpalatable to almost anyone, but more troublesome is the fact that asking is the least of where we need their help. We need them to open doors and cultivate people who can make major gifts.
So What Do They Need?
Well, what did we need?
First, we needed to understand the goals of the organization and how our fundraising helps the organization fulfill those goals.
Then we needed to understand the mechanics of fundraising. How do we figure out who might be a prospect? How do we learn about a prospect? How do we begin to cultivate a prospect? When do we ask for a gift and how do we do it?
Once we’ve got the mechanics, we need practice. Now of course we probably got that original practice on the job. Perhaps we were mentored and went on our first cultivation and solicitation calls with a seasoned professional. Or we started small and learned by trial and error. We certainly asked lots of questions, read articles and books, perhaps attended professional development programs.
Are we providing any of this to board members? I’ve worked with more than 100 boards and I can vouch that very few of them even fully understood the goals of the organization and how fundraising fit in. Perhaps they knew what the organization did, but not why it did it or what the ultimate goal was. Without this understanding, the fundraising is nothing more than an obligation.
Before engaging me, more than half those boards hadn’t had a lick of training ... and they’d been pushing their board members to fundraise for years (as many as 100 years!). Obviously not a formula for success.
And virtually none—not 5 percent—had been given the opportunity to practice what they had learned.
But We Don’t Have the Time or Money
I spent more than 20 years working at social service and small arts organizations, so I understand the scarcity of resources. So let’s be as creative and resourceful when it comes to fundraising as we are about everything else.
Let’s start by carving out time at every board meeting to discuss mission, to give board members a chance to articulate their story, to teach the mechanics of fundraising as we know them, and to give board members the opportunity to practice.
Fifteen minutes per board meeting will make a world of difference. We can all find 15 minutes to carve out for something so important. Fifteen minutes doesn’t cost us any money.
No doubt money is helpful when it comes to training. Can you put anything in the coming year’s budget? Perhaps you can at least have your board and fundraising committee chairs take a webinar or read a book (they might fund this themselves)? Starting small is fine—you don’t have to accomplish everything right away.
Maybe the board would even be willing to underwrite having a retreat with a trainer? They understand the value of training in their lives and they want to succeed—they just don’t know how. Don’t be shy about proposing this. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll say no! And that’s good training for you as an asker!
Here’s to giving our board members the tools to be successful partners in developing our organization’s resources.
The preceding is a cross-post from the Asking Matters blog by Brian Saber, president of Asking Matters. He promises that, as the least expensive and best-quality resource in the field, Asking Matters will help countless organizations continue to do incredible work for their causes.