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Cynder Sinclair: Four Components for Successful Board Fundraising

Are you pleased with your board’s participation in fundraising? Do you wish you could find some way to inspire your board members to advocate more and fundraise for your organization?

Don’t feel bad. I’ve heard it said that a good fundraising board is like a unicorn — everyone knows what it looks like, but no one has ever seen one. Actually, there are many boards that do an admirable job of fundraising. So, let’s learn from their success — what does it take to create a high-functioning fundraising board?

Have you ever heard board members say, “I’m not good at fundraising,” or “I don’t know anyone with money,” or “I don’t want to ask my friends for money”? We can overcome this! It’s human nature to fear the dreaded term “fundraising.” Language is powerful, so let’s start by choosing different words when we talk about fundraising behaviors with board members.

Most board members truly want to do their part, even with fundraising. They just need a little guidance and encouragement. Boards that are successful at fundraising have one thing in common: They have a plan, and they proactively work their plan.

This type of plan typically includes four key components: Choose with Intention, Train with Gusto, Develop an Individual Plan, and Monitor/Encourage/Celebrate. Let’s take a look at each one.

» 1. Choose Board Members with Intention: It all starts with the Nominating Committee. A clear demographic plan for board membership makes it easier to find just the right people to contribute their expertise and passion. At least half of the board members should have the capacity to give themselves at a high level or have connections with those who can give — and be willing to use those connections. Some board members can be chosen for a specific expertise they contribute to achieving the mission.

The Nominating Committees should choose board members with high integrity. Integrity is the thread that binds the organization together. Board members must be passionate about and completely committed to the mission. Donors give because they want to change lives, and dedicated board members inspire donors.

At your next board meeting, ask board members to list ways your organization makes a difference — why people should give. This exercise will remind them of why they are serving and make it easier to discuss the case statement with others.

The Nominating Committee should choose people who are willing to engage in fundraising because they understand it is critical to fulfilling their fiduciary duty. Be clear from the beginning that board members will be expected to give financially and to actively engage in fundraising (although assure them they will be trained and be part of a team). If they seem unwilling to do their part, let them go to another board.

Increased scrutiny and regulation of the nonprofit sector means our board members will be called to a higher level of commitment. Recruiting board members with the line, “Oh, it won’t take much of your time — just attend a monthly meeting and a committee meeting if you can,” just won’t be good enough anymore. We are all being called to a higher performance level.

» 2. Train Board Members with Gusto: Create an atmosphere of fundraising excellence. Nonprofit management experts Frances Hesselbein and Peter Drucker said, “No status quo allowed!” and “Keep raising the bar of excellence.” People will respond and be proud to belong to a board with high standards. Like most people, board members tend to prefer to be comfortable — but keep them outside their comfort zone so they will focus on their responsibilities to your organization even though their days are jam-packed.

Help board members understand fundraising is a critical fiduciary responsibility. Since a board’s job is to govern, not manage, its focus needs to be on increasing revenue rather than cutting expenses. Remind board members: No Money, No Mission. Their highest fiduciary responsibility is to ensure that the organization is adequately funded to meet its mission. The loud message to board members is, “Let’s get serious about fundraising, and don’t worry because we have a plan for you to make it fun!”

» 3. Develop a Plan for Each Board Member: Board members will feel more comfortable in their role as fundraisers if you help them develop a personalized plan for the year. They will be pleasantly surprised how easy and enjoyable fundraising can be!

Truth is, a lot of activities can be included in the behavior we call “fundraising.” As we know, the basic cycle includes the following. Think of ways you can involve board members in some or all of these steps.

» Identifying prospective donors

» Educating and cultivating donors

» Asking for support from donors

» Recognizing all donor contributions

» Deepening donor commitment by engaging donors in the mission

The most effective board members work with staff to develop a personalized fundraising agreement. To do this, a staff member works individually with each board member to adapt a plan to the board member’s preferences, limitations and timing.

A sample agreement might include these five elements:

» I will give $100 each month for the next year using automatic deductions from a credit card or bank account, for a total annual gift of $1,200.

» In November, I will mail holiday letters asking friends and family to make contributions to the organization instead of sending gifts I don’t need. I will send at least 10 such letters with a goal of receiving at least $500.

» I will proactively discuss the mission with at least one person or group every month for the next year. My goal will be to educate key community members about the good work of this organization and to gain their support.

» I will join staff on five major donor visits between January and March. I will do my best to identify prospects and cultivate them prior to the visit. I hope at least two people will give — one at $500 and another at $1,000.

» I will make three thank you calls to donors each month.

» 4. Monitor, Encourage, and Celebrate Board Member Success: The Development Team, comprised of the development director, the executive director, the board chair and the Development Committee chair can divide up responsibility for monitoring and encouraging board members.

Members of the all-important Development Team will follow a plan to do the following:

» Check in with each board member on a regular basis to find out how s/he is doing with the plan.

» Ask if s/he needs any special support.

» Offer to help however possible.

The Development Committee chair makes a report at each board meeting celebrating the progress of each board member and the board as a whole. This will encourage board members and communicate the importance of working the plan. It will also send a strong message to the whole board that fundraising is important and rewarding.

If our Nominating Committees choose board members with intention, if we train board members with gusto, if we develop a personalized fundraising plan for each board member, and then monitor and encourage board members through the process, everyone will have lots to celebrate. Board members will have fun while meeting their critical fiduciary responsibility, and the organization will reap the benefits in sustainability.

— Cynder Sinclair, Ph.D., is a local consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137, or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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