Aside from your organization’s executive directors, who are the most important fundraisers for your organization? If you immediately thought about your board members, you’re right! It’s rare to find board members who are excited about fundraising, even as they understand its importance to the organization’s fiscal health. However, they’ve already proven that they want the organization to succeed, so you can assume they might be willing to learn more about how they can engage with the process.
Educate Your Board Members
Consider asking for some time at a board meeting to provide the board with an overview of fundraising. The best way to engage board members is to break down your organization’s strategies into manageable pieces and explain where they might assist. I showed a graphic with multiple concentric circles during one board meeting early in the year. I explained how a prospective donor usually begins outside the largest circle and that it is our job as fundraisers to get them to the inner circle, where we (and our stakeholders) are. The closer donors get to the inner circle, the more likely they are to give (and give larger with every move closer!). I told the board that they are the best tools and we must help move prospects and donors inward by paying attention to the “five I’s.”
The 5 I’s of Fundraising
Cultivating Donor Relationships With the 5 I’s
You can explain to the board that fundraising is about relationships, and this is where their work can make a difference. After Identifying a prospective donor, we need to provide them with Information about us to gauge their Interest, invite them to be Involved in the organization, and ultimately make an Investment (gift) to us. Board members can engage with prospects and donors in every step of this process, through notes, emails, or calls, by inviting them to events or volunteer opportunities, and by encouraging a gift with “join me” language in phone calls or written appeals.
How to Deal With Board Members Who Don’t Want to Fundraise
Some board members will say they are not fundraisers or that they don’t like asking for money. You will undoubtedly run into these attitudes around solicitation specifically, and they are often rooted in cultural, religious, or other values. Many board members do not want to “make the ask.” Respect this, but encourage them to participate in the process so they can understand that fundraising is about more than “the ask.”
5 Ways to Engage Your Board in Fundraising
- Get them engaged in prospect cultivation and donor engagement long before the solicitation.
- Ask them to develop an elevator pitch about the organization – or write one for them – and collaborate with them to discover opportunities where they might be in front of prospective donors so that they might share it.
- Ask if they would consider extending a personal invitation to a prospect for a volunteer event they are attending.
- Ask them to create content about the organization (or offer to do it for them) that they can push out to their online networks.
- Ask them to host a small dinner or cocktail party with the organization’s executive director and a few donor prospects.
- Finally, ask if they would be willing to accompany the executive director on a solicitation call.
The board member has to do nothing more than pave the way for the executive director to make the ask; tee it up, so to speak. Have you heard the expression that donors don’t give to causes, they give to people? Having a board member in the meeting provides credibility for the solicitation – it is an in-person example of the “join me” language from an appeal letter.
Promoting Donor Stewardship
Finally, an essential aspect of donor acquisition and fundraising is stewardship. This is a task where board engagement can make a substantial impact. Encourage board members to assist the fundraising effort by making thank-you calls, writing thank-you notes, and generally offering outreach to donors who have supported the organization. If your board members have enthusiasm for your organization, their willingness to share their gratitude greatly impresses new and existing donors.
The board, which has demonstrated its commitment to your organization through its service, should be a critical component of your fundraising strategy. Make sure you engage them every step of the way with manageable tasks that they’re comfortable with. Who knows, you develop a fundraising board that loves to make the ask!
Alyson Landers has held many positions around the nonprofit boardroom table and enjoys work that allows her to synthesize best practices into components customized for a particular organization. The challenge of board engagement has been a focus of her nonprofit career. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.