Boards, Engagement, and Year-End Fundraising

In Fundraising by Karen Buck

Last week we posted tips on engaging your board of directors in work outside of regular board meetings. While board members provide service to their organizations in a myriad of ways – lending expertise, setting strategic direction,  and building relationships,  just to name a few – many organizations are thinking on thing when they say “board engagement” – fundraising.

This is an ongoing challenge for many nonprofit leaders – and one that is top of mind as they are gearing up for their year-end fundraising push.

The barriers to participating in fundraising depend upon the individual. That means there’s no one silver bullet that will work for all organizations or for all members of the same board. But, the tips in last week’s post all apply to engaging board members in fundraising task.

1. Build on Strengths

For example, ask your articulate, outgoing member to speak at an event or a detail-oriented member to review a donor list with you.

If you aren’t clear on what each member’s strengths are (or their interests, comfort level, or experience) consider setting a goal of having one-on-one meetings with each member over the next few months. You’ll learn much more about the strengths they bring and how to engage them in fundraising tasks than you’ll ever learn at a full board meeting.

2. Give Specific Assignments

Don’t ask: “Who do you have in your contacts list you could talk to?” but, “Can you share any small businesses in the tourism industry who care about conservation that you think we should approach to become members by next Tuesday?”

In my experience, this is where we fail in our efforts to engage board members in fundraising. We ask for assistance that is too vague and too personal.

Think about this: the first question really means: I want you to ask your friends and colleagues to give to this organization based on nothing more than the fact that you are involved (for some amount and by some date that you are supposed to guess). Contrast that to the second question, which really means: please use your knowledge to think about who, from this specific group, might be interested in our cause so that we can ask them for this specific reason and amount next week. Which would you be more likely to respond to?

3. Set Them up for Success:

Provide tools, talking points, contact information – whatever they might need to be able to complete the task they have agreed to take on. Fundraising is likely not their day job, so what is obvious to you may be brand new to them.

Don’t be afraid to err on the side of over-supporting them. Remember, over time the members will become more confident and skilled. This is a time when an investment of time and effort on the front end will pay off.

4. Start Small and Build Up

Know where you are going (in this case: What would a board of directors that is fully engaged in fundraising look like? What would they be doing? What skills would they have? What would your role be?) and start at the beginning.

How do you do that? Work backwards from your desired end state until you meet your board members where they are today. If you want to be able to complete a marathon, first you have to be able to run 23 miles. Before that, you have to be able to run 22. And so on, all the way back to the day when you had to sign up for the race.

The October 18, 2012, edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy cites a study by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative that found that nonprofits that engage their board members in pursuing at least seven different types of fundraising activities raise more money. So the time to increase board engagement in fundraising is now! Best of luck in your year-end fundraising efforts!