Board members play key roles in fundraising. They are “ambassadors”—evangelists, even—who carry the organization’s vision into the community. They create critical connections between potential donors and the organization. They help maintain long-term relationships with donors and provide stewardship experiences. And, of course, they invest time and financial support in the mission of the organization.
Yet, sometimes, board members can be reluctant to fully embrace fundraising. As one trustee told us, “There are some people who enjoy raising funds. Most people don’t. Most people are shy and bashful about asking their friends for money. So, they do it under a sense of duty or duress, one or the other.”
As development professionals, we know that there are many ways board members can contribute to fundraising without ever asking for a single cent. But, in the face of insidious myths about fundraising, what can a development professional do? Here are five approaches to managing up with board members.
- Make It Clear…
…that it’s not about asking friends for money. Of course, some board members are going to be comfortable (and adept at) asking for contributions. Most aren’t. And that’s perfectly fine; there are many equally crucial fundraising roles that board members play.
- How can you help your board members understand that asking friends for money is not an expectation?
- How will you help them recognize the truly critical roles they play?
2. Make It Connect
Time and again, board members, trustees, and volunteers we interview stress that they want to be involved with organizations that accomplish important things. How these people define “important” is based on their life experiences. For example, the trustee quoted above went on to tell us, “I don’t like raising money any more than anybody else.” But he does so—willingly and with passion—at an organization focused on Alzheimer’s research because his wife died after a 20-year battle with the disease.
- How can you discover your board members’ personal stories and connect them with your organizational initiatives?
- How can you articulate these initiatives in a way that inspires your board members?
3. Make Their Role Meaningful
Not only do the board members we interview tell us they want to be involved in meaningful work, but they want to be involved in a meaningful way. One volunteer sums it up nicely: “I like to be deeply involved. There has to be something I can bring a skill to that would make a difference in the organization. If I can’t, then I’m not sure why I’m there.”
- How can you discover your board members’ unique skills and connect them with specific development roles?
- Who currently serves on a board and has skills you are underutilizing?
4. Make It Easy
Board members want to contribute meaningfully—but that is difficult when there has been no training in how to do so. As one board member told us, “If you want me to be an advocate, make it easy. Give me the training, tools, and experience I need to be effective.”
- How might you identify resources your board members need to be effective?
- How will you provide those resources?
5. Make It Rewarding
Lastly, do your board members feel valued? Do they see the impact of their important work? This board member expresses a perspective shared by many volunteers: “In my case, the amount of time spent is really proportional to how much value I think I provide. I ask myself, ‘Do I enjoy this? Do I feel it is worthwhile? Do I feel it is appreciated by the organization?’”
- What are you doing to create a return on the investment board members make with your organization?
It’s important to remember that even if your board members aren’t directly asking for money, they still play a critical role in the donor development process. By managing up and inspiring them to be involved in philanthropy, you’ll be able to connect with new donors, as well as inspire your board members to deepen their connection with your organization.