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The Number One Rule for Powerful Board Fundraising

Boards should lead the way. That means first to give, first to cultivate, and first to ask.

After eight years of a national reces­sion, it’s clear that the fundraising challenge is as tough as it’s ever been. But in GCN’s 2011 Georgia Nonprofit Governance Index, we found that 65% of executive directors were dissatisfied with their board’s fundraising efforts. On top of that, we found that most board members weren’t aware of the disconnect—nearly 70% claimed to be satisfied with their own fundraising perfor­mance. And the problem isn’t just local: national nonprofit consultant BoardSource reports in their 2012 Governance Index that 75% of chief executives gave their boards a “C” or below in fundraising.

Less than 40% of organiza­tions received a donation from
every board member.

At GCN’s Nonprofit Consulting Group, we’re asked regularly by nonprofit leaders to speak to their boards about ways they can participate more fully in fundraising. Getting boards to participate in fundraising is not a simple effort, and it starts at recruit­ment, with clear, upfront expectations regarding potential board members’ fundraising role. It also requires a viable fundraising strategy that includes compelling, audience-specif­ic “reasons to give”; well-organized strategies for identifying, cultivating, securing and retaining donors; and networking opportunities suited to members’ individual strengths. It is important to keep in mind that few, if any, of your board members are seasoned fundraisers, and that it’s not their responsibility to define their fundraising roles for themselves.

To ready your board for the rigors of “the Ask,” you need to educate them in successful fundraising techniques. You can kick off that process with one simple rule: Boards should lead the way. That means board members should be first to give, first to culti­vate, and first to ask.

First to give

Few, if any, of your board members are seasoned fundraisers, and it’s not their responsibility to define their fundraising roles for themselves.

Though lots of nonprofits expect all board members to make a personal contribution, GCN’s Governance Index found that less than 40% of organiza­tions received a donation from every board member. When it comes to board member giving, you should adopt the 100% giving rule, requiring each board member to make a personal financial contribution to your nonprofit. If that board member (or any other fundraising committee member) is participating in a direct ask, their gift should be comparable to the ask amount—and it should be given before asking anyone else for money. Board members can’t expect an outsider to give more than those most closely affiliated to the organization. Your Board President, along with the Development Committee Chair and the ED, should ask members for their annual gifts and hold a meeting with each to plan their giving and soliciting efforts.

First to cultivate

Board members are just as valuable for their connections as they are for their experience and leadership skills. They should work those connections for your organization’s advantage early, often and—initially, anyway—in a strictly informational or advisory capacity. This can be done any number of ways, so long as your board member prepares by knowing the potential donor as well as the case for your nonprofit. To help board mem­bers develop a powerful pitch, take some one-on-one time to talk through their connection to your mission—there’s likely a simple but powerful story to explain why they commit time and money to your nonprofit.

The simplest way to cultivate a prospect? Ask for advice. It invites engagement with your cause, it opens up the door for future conversations, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s flattering.

The simplest way to cultivate a prospect? Ask for advice. It invites engagement with your cause, it opens up the door for future conversations and, perhaps most importantly, it’s flattering. Board members should also personally invite established and potential donors to events, meetings or any other activities that showcase your impact, reach or support base. Other strategies include asking prospects to host a gathering, volun­teer for a special event, or write an article for your newsletter. Board members can also recruit already-invested funders to help draw in new money—perhaps as participants in an informal “friendraising” event, where current donors invite their own network of friends, further extending your organization’s reach. 

First to ask

In her book The Ask, Laura Fredricks says, “When you ask others for money, you are not asking them to give something up—you are giving them the opportunity to invest in your organization and to feel good.” But even for experienced fundraisers, it’s easy to lose confidence when the conversation turns to money. Making “the Ask” official should be relatively pain-free if a board member has put in the work to court a donor, but you’ll want to establish a time-line for harvesting prospects to ensure the process doesn’t drag out indefinitely, and that there’s enough time for the cultivation, the ask and the follow-up. If the cultivating board member isn’t comfortable making the ask—and many will not be—send him or her with an accompanying asker, in the form of a development commit­tee chair, an ED or another on-staff fundraiser. Either way, you want to make sure your board member feels the rewards of a well-prepared solicitation—your gratitude, positive feedback and encouragement will go a long way toward building your board members’ confidence in and enthusiasm for fundraising.

Cindy Cheatham is Vice President, Nonprofit Consulting Group at the Georgia Center for Nonprofits.

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