My first year as a nonprofit fundraiser was before social media, cell phones, email, computers and even FAX machines. I had never heard the term “information overload” and I wasn’t distracted by interruptions every five minutes. Why do I mention this?
Because in today’s fast-paced world we are often so bombarded with bells, whistles and flashing lights that we lose sight of the basics. We lose focus.
Back in the day, I focused.
My number one focus was our board of directors. I knew that before we could get others to give, the board needed to give. Passionately. They needed to believe; then behave like leaders. Otherwise, how could they inspire followers?
I organized a board giving campaign.
In Why Your Non-Profit Needs an Organized Board Giving Campaign Joe Garecht outlines key ways nonprofits go awry when it comes to getting board members to fully participate. I agree with him 100%. Your organized campaign doesn’t have to be fancy, but it does need to be explicit. Don’t put yourself in the position of sitting by the phone waiting for it to ring. All too often, it won’t.
To get more board members to give — not just thoughtfully, but passionately — you’ve got to shine a light on the subject. You’ve got to make it feel essential. Not just in the sense of “important,” but also as being a true reflection of their being. Their essence.
I invited board members to give as if I were inviting them to a wedding — an important lifetime event where sacred vows are pledged.
What I did was simple (and even hokey), but it worked. I hand-wrote pledge cards in calligraphy for each board member. I put them in nice envelopes and sent them off with personal notes asking them to return them to me with their commitment for the year. Their “I do.” I told them we needed to know so we could plan ahead, and so we could tell other prospective donors what our board was doing. I told them 100% participation was essential; if board members weren’t pledging their troth, then why should anyone else?
They actually called me up telling me how nice the pledge cards were! They appreciated knowing what was expected of them. And they returned the cards. All of them.
This isn’t a strategy I would necessarily advocate for most nonprofits today. It worked in that situation, but I was pretty naïve and attribute some of my success to beginner’s luck. The board president seemed to consider me like a daughter, and he championed most of my ideas – getting the others on board too. I didn’t have to find a board leader; I inherited one. You might not be so lucky. I know now that, among other things, the cards shouldn’t have come from me and they should have been hand-delivered. But because I had a leader, I could afford a few mistakes. After that, I worked assiduously to inculcate this model of board campaign leadership into the culture of the organization. And into the culture of every organization I worked with thereafter. Sometimes you have to give luck a gentle nudge.
To play “Follow the Leader” get yourself a board leader to lead your campaign.
There’s a science to persuasion and the best board giving campaigns use many of the key influencers talked about in Influence, by Robert Cialdini. Among these are ‘liking,’ ‘authority,’ ‘social proof’ and ‘commitment and consistency.’ Board members will give to other board members they like, especially if they are perceived as authorities. They will give to their peers in order to be perceived as fitting in. And once they’ve committed, they will be more likely to follow through.
7 Actionable tips:
- Begin by getting your board president on board with the notion that all board members should make a considered gift that demonstrates their passion for your cause and commitment to their role as a board leader.
- Ask your board president to talk about the reason why the board needs to become actively invested in fundraising – giving and getting – at a board meeting. Make sure to hold this meeting prior to the meeting where you kick off your campaign. Also talk about the proposed financial goal and timeline, and have your board vote on this to establish their buy-in to both the campaign and the goal (you may want to do this first in an executive committee session to get your key leaders invested).
- Encourage your board president and executive director to schedule a time for the board to collectively engage in fundraising training (I actually prefer to call these sessions “Inspiring Philanthropy”) that helps them become more comfortable with their leadership role in facilitating philanthropy to assure adequate financing to move their mission forward. Share lots and lots of stories; get there by asking each board member to share a story about what inspired them to get involved and/or what inspires them to stay involved.
- Have the board president ask other officers and the development committee chair to help make personal, face-to-face asks of all board members (have the executive director or another officer make the personal ask of the board president).
- Keep the momentum going (and hold your board members’ feet to the fire) by scheduling development on every single board meeting agenda (you can also send emailed progress reports during the heated part of the campaign). Always announce the results of the board campaign (#s of gifts; % participation and $$ raised to-date), and encourage those who’ve not yet committed to do so. Don’t give names, assign blame or try to shame folks. This negative re-enforcement doesn’t work well. Keep things upbeat and positive, giving the message that you assume those who’ve not yet committed have just been too busy.
- Create a deadline for board commitments (this is super important if you want your board members to go on and ask other donors for their commitments). Only after board members have made a commitment about which they feel proud will they be able to effectively ask others for generous support.
- Have board leaders make follow-up calls to any slow pokes.
The real bottom line here is to make a shift from pussyfooting around the subject of fundraising to embracing it warmly. The first attitude comes from a place of fear and loathing — and our deep cultural antipathy towards the subject of money. It’s not about money. It’s about what’s in your board members’ hearts. You’ve got to come from a place of love. And this is a subject about which I could happily discourse for days. If you need just a bit more help in getting your board comfortable with their role in fundraising check out The 3 Ways We Go Wrong Asking Nonprofit Boards to Help Raise Funds. If you’ve got a few days to devote…
Grab the low Early Bird rate for Winning Major Gifts!
This 6-week Fundraising Strategies E-Course begins January 27th, and you can catch a deal up until this Friday. You can sign up 5 additional folks from your organization — including board members! — for one registration. Why? Because I firmly believe major gifts is a team effort! So take advantage of this great opportunity to get everyone on the same page (once you’re registered, you have plenty of time to send me the names of the rest of your team — so grab your spot now).
A variation of this post first appeared on Clairification January 14, 2014.