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Yikes! What do you do when your board members don’t want to fundraise?



Jo Ellen wrote: Gayle, I have a vexing question. I have a board that has been established and many of them don’t want to be involved in fundraising—don’t all board members have to have some responsibility in this?


Oh, that is vexing. Yes, all of the board members should be involved in fundraising in some way…a wily development officer has to determine how to help board members feel comfortable with their new responsibilities.


Reality check: Unfortunately, many board members have not been recruited with this expectation. Shame on those who have invited them without discussing the necessity of fundraising. Clearly, it is even difficult for some board members to recruit others with the expectation that they must do fundraising—after all, they are thinking, they don’t want to turn anyone off. Let’s just get them on board and then spring the responsibilities on them! Yes, well, that doesn’t work. And it’s not fair to anyone. Most people joining a board have the expectation that they will be asked for a gift and be asked to fundraise, so it is important to talk about it frankly during the recruitment and orientation.


There are multiple ways to help board members become more comfortable with assuming their fundraising responsibility. We often refer to the give-and-get role board members play. They need to not only give their own financial support, but they also need to assist with other opportunities for giving and getting.


Board members can do a number of things to give and get:

  • Make their own gift—most important!

  • Host a small event in their home or at a restaurant,

  • Identify people who might be good prospects from their lists of contacts,

  • Ensure they are building awareness among even small constituencies who may ultimately become donors or friends,

  • Help the development office by under-girding requests for sponsorships, requests to individuals, etc.,

  • Attend fundraising events for the organization and bring some friends,

  • Participate in a group to tour prospects through the organization itself,

  • And the list goes on…

All board members need to understand the make-up of the donor and prospect base and do everything they can to cultivate this constituency and support the development team. This is a very critical responsibility for the board of any sized organization.


A successful example: Recently I joined a new board and none of the board members had ever done fundraising before. In truth, when they were being recruited, board members had no idea that their organization would become a non-profit in future years. Each of the board members has, nonetheless, remained on the board. And most of them agree that the mission of the organization is so compelling that we had to take another step. What happened?


Two dedicated and capable board members who have “game” agreed to host a small wine-tasting party in a private home. I will always remember it. The hosts were so authentic as they introduced the guests that evening; they were funny and clearly committed to the mission. I could see it was a success from the word “go.”


These two gentlemen—aided by staff and the restauranteur—helped to make great inroads to secure donations and excite volunteers in a room of about 16 people who had not been aware of the mission of the organization. The pitch was so capably done by the CEO of the organization; he modeled his own giving and made a very soft but well targeted ask. (A hard sell for the organization would have ensured that board members would not want to do this again.) That night the board members did not feel pressure, but they did feel pride. We reported this success to the board and others gained courage from these two leaders.


These two board members truly made an impact in a way that they had not fully appreciated previously. For this organization, the public fundraising program for individuals has now been launched—additional steps to follow.


Big Tip: Ensure that when the next board members are recruited their fundraising responsibilities are clearly outlined. And make sure they have “game.”


What have you done to engage board members in fundraising—especially those who were very reluctant…were your efforts successful?

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