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Work Wonders by Redefining the Word “Fundraising” for Your Board

Definition of fundraising: Activities to raise money, as for an organization. The following is added in red: Includes asking, but also involves many other activities as well.Novices equate the word “fundraising” with “the ask”—the moment when the gift is requested in person, at an event, online, through the mail, or by phone.

Taken holistically, as I make clear in my book What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid, fundraising is really a cycle of activities that includes identifying prospective donors, educating and cultivating them, asking for their support, recognizing their contribution, and deepening their commitment by engaging them in the organization’s mission.

Given this framework, we need to redefine the word “fundraising.” The asking-for-money part is 10 to 15 percent of the work. Most of the effort is before and after we ask.

Try this exercise. Ask your board to brainstorm all the ways they could assist with any sort of fundraising. Encourage them to think creatively, because the goal is to come up with the longest list possible. Here are several likely items:

  • Give money ourselves
  • Include our organization in our estate plan
  • Identify potential donors: friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers, and so on
  • Sign fundraising letters and add personal notes
  • “Open doors” by setting up appointments to meet with prospective donors
  • Participate in donor meetings (even if the trustee wants someone else to make the ask)
  • Host a fundraising house party
  • Promote our organization using social media
  • Organize fundraising events or donor recognition events
  • Sell event or raffle tickets
  • Write thank you notes
  • Serve as an ambassador by talking about our nonprofit in the community
  • Organize a board fundraising training
  • Serve on the development committee to help create a fundraising plan
  • Assist with grantseeking by researching grant opportunities, writing proposals, and meeting with funders
  • Figure out ways to earn income by charging for our services 

To help you think beyond the obvious, here’s one creative way board members can support the fundraising process while avoiding the dreaded “ask.” 

Imagine the following phone call: 

“Harvey, my name is Andy Robinson. I’m a volunteer board member with [name of group]. I’m not calling tonight to ask for money”take a pause while the donor sighs with relief“I’m just calling to say thank you. You made a generous contribution a few months ago and I believe you received a thank you letter from the office. I just wanted to add my personal thanks. Do you have any questions about our work? Would you like to be involved in any way? OK, that’s all for now. I just wanted to check in and say thanks. We really appreciate your support. Have a good evening.”

If you end up talking to the voice mail, no problem; simply leave the same message.

Imagine that five of your board members agree to make three or four of these calls per month, investing a total of 15 minutes per month. By the end of the year, you will make personal contact with 200 to 300 donors.

Now imagine what will happen when you later approach those supporters for a renewal gift. You’re right: they’ll be very responsive.

With your brainstormed list in hand, work together as a board to prioritize the top 8 to 10 items. Even if you’re not seasoned fundraisers, you’re likely to identify at least some of the best strategies, because most are self-evident: give money, provide names of prospects, add personal notes to letters, post information about your group on social media, ask people you know, and so on.

As the author and trainer Joan Flanagan once said, “All the knowledge about fundraising can be summed up a few words: Ask ’em, thank ’em, ask ’em again, thank ’em again. And give money yourself.”

Andy RobinsonAndy Robinson is author of What Every Board Member Needs to Know, Do, and Avoid, from which this article is adapted. His other books include, How to Raise $500 from Almost Anyone, 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