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3 Steps to Getting Your Board More Involved in Fundraising

Michelle Stockwell

Getting development teams and their nonprofit boards to work in alignment can be challenging. Tensions often arise when both sides start to feel that they aren’t getting the support they need. Fundraisers often lament that board members are shirking their commitment to helping fundraise. Board members feel like they’re being asked to make uncomfortable “asks” of their social networks, without the support they need to do it well.

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Even if your development team and your board work well together, there is probably more that the executive director, development director, and board chair can do to ensure that the organization is taking advantage of everyone’s strengths. Here's how to get started:

1. Set Clear Expectations

When you’re introducing prospects to your organization, you explain how their contribution helps the organization carry out its mission. Have the same conversation with your board members. Teach them that fundraising isn’t about asking for money; it’s about giving people the opportunity to give back and improve their communities.

First things first, you should be able to articulate to your board what role you’d like to see them have in your development plan. Prepare a statement of clear goals to present and discuss at the next board meeting. Here’s an example:
The executive director and development director are responsible for the success of the day-to-day fundraising operations.
The board is responsible for playing a strong supporting role to the development operation. This can include being an advocate for the organization in the community; expanding the organizations’ network; hosting cultivation meetings or events; thanking donors, and asking donors for support.

When you invite new board members to join the organization, make sure that they understand that development is a significant part of the role. Ignore the temptation to downplay these responsibilities; instead, try providing examples of how current board members have successfully contributed.

2. Provide Support and Trainings

When you hire a brand new development staffer, you probably don’t start them off with solicitations. Instead, you ask them to start by writing thank you notes and handling support tasks. Once the new staffer understands the cycle of giving, you can start teaching them to cultivate, solicit, and steward donors.

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Start thinking about your board in the same way. You may be lucky enough to have board members who have experience soliciting donors, but most of your board members will need to work up to it. Luckily, fundraising is a learnable skill. Have a one-on-one meeting with each board member to find out where they’re at.

During your one-on-ones, boost their confidence by connecting their previous experiences to fundraising skills. For example, someone with a background in marketing or customer relations will already have a strong sense of how to create excitement about a brand and manage long-term relationships.

Get them excited about growing their skills and taking on more responsibility during their tenure on the board. Discuss their long-term roadmap from writing thank you notes, to making introductions, to soliciting gifts.

Consider also hosting an annual fundraising retreat for the board. This is a great opportunity to teach your board about fundraising and workshop their skills. Experienced board members can help mentor new members.

3. Build on Your Momentum

Once your board understands how their help fundraising connects to the success of the organization and you’ve provided clear support, it is time to start working. Here are some ways that your board can get involved:

Easier, introductory lifts:

Make a Gift (and Tell Your Friends Why You Did)
Write Thank You Notes
Make Thank You and Stewardship Calls
Be an Advocate for your Nonprofit in the Community
Help Mail Out Annual Appeals
“Staff” or Entertain Important Prospects at Fundraisers
Host Introductory Events for Prospects

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Stepping up:

Host a Tour of the Organization for Donors
Introduce Potential Prospects from your Network to the Development Team
Secure 10+ Attendees for a Fundraiser
Cultivate a Small Portfolio of Donors
Make Renewal Calls to a Curated List of Donors
Host a House Party and Ask for Contributions

Advanced Asks:

Solicit the Donors in Your Social Network and Cultivation Portfolio
Make Cool or Cold Calls
Schedule and Attend Solicitation Meetings with Prospects (The Development Staffer Can Make the Ask)
Chair and Help Plan Fundraising Events

When you’re on the same page as your board, you will find that they can open doors for your fundraising operation. Inevitably, some members will still struggle to get involved, drop out, or get stuck. When this happens, kindly bring them back into the fold. Consider assigning another board member or fundraising staffer to be their teammate.

Topics: fundraising