By Kelsey Boudin
President and Founder, Southern Tier Communications Strategies, LLC
You’re holding your quarterly board meeting, and you look around the table as you discuss the next quarter’s fundraising strategy. Standard procedure. You note that you and your organization’s grant writer will be working on kicking several big grant proposals out the door. There’s a community event coming up that’s more of a “friend-raiser” than a “fundraiser,” but it’s important nonetheless. Then you look around at your nonprofit board members and ask if any would be willing to help with fundraising next quarter.
Why are nonprofit board members so damn hesitant to help fundraise? It’s a question many an executive director and CEO has asked themselves since nonprofits have existed.
Relax! Don’t get mad at them. They’re busy professionals with loads of experience, community connections and other areas that are absolutely vital to your mission. But it’s a valid question. When one of your organization’s biggest direct needs is money, why aren’t more board members on the front lines of that battle?
Why Your Nonprofit Board Members May Avoid Fundraising
As a nonprofit fundraising consultant, one of the most common challenges I encounter is getting board members to actively participate in fundraising. While many nonprofit board members are passionate about their organization’s mission, they may be hesitant to get involved in fundraising for various reasons.
It’s important to understand “why” before we can get to “how” to fix it. Here are a few reasons why nonprofit board members may be hesitant to help with fundraising:
1. Lack of Fundraising Experience
Many board members may not have experience with fundraising. It may not be their area of professional expertise, while they could be absolute whizzes in areas tangential to fundraising – like digital marketing, community outreach, strategic planning or fiscal coordination.
They may feel uncomfortable asking for donations or worry that they will not be successful. They may feel it’s “just not their place” to be “sales-y,” or that the tactics behind asking for donations are too complicated.
2. Time Constraints
Board members are often busy professionals with little free time to devote to fundraising efforts. They may have other obligations or feel like fundraising is not a priority for them.
Regrettably, some may even feel that assistance with the day-to-day is “beneath them,” or better suited to a paid staff member lower down the chain of command. It’s common for board members to feel they’re masters of strategy and that the “heavy lifting” should be done by others.
3. Fear of Rejection
Oh, yes, this hits even the most confident, successful people. Board members may worry about being rejected when asking for donations, which can be a blow to their confidence and ego.
4. Perception of Conflict of Interest
Some board members may feel uncomfortable asking their personal and professional networks for donations, especially if they feel it could be perceived as a conflict of interest. They may feel as though making the ask of professional contacts, family and friends would be considered nepotism.
5. Lack of Clarity Around their Role
Board members may not fully understand their role in fundraising efforts and may not be clear on how they can best contribute.
So Let’s Get Your Board on Board with Fundraising
What can nonprofit organizations do to address these concerns and get board members more engaged in fundraising efforts?
1. Provide Training and Support
Offer team-development sessions, training and support for board members to help them hone their fundraising skills and confidence. Provide resources, tools and guidance to help them effectively engage with donors.
2. Recruit Hardcore Fundraisers
When you don’t have a skillset on the board, put it there. As a CEO or executive director, you have the power to build your team. When searching for new board members, seek individuals who have experience or a strong interest in fundraising. Look for those who have a network of contacts, experience in sales or marketing, or who have previously volunteered for nonprofit organizations.
During the recruitment process, be upfront about the fundraising expectations and responsibilities of board members. Which segues nicely to the next points.
3. Set Realistic Expectations
Recognize that board members have other commitments and time limitations. Set realistic expectations for their fundraising contributions and create a plan that works for everyone. Board members expressing reservations will be comforted to know they’re only responsible for making a certain number of donor calls or designing “X” number of social media graphics for the year-end fundraising campaign.
4. Clearly Define Board Fundraising Roles & Tactics
Ensure that board members understand their role in fundraising efforts and how they can best contribute. Provide clear expectations and guidelines for their involvement. For instance, instead of asking board members to actively recruit new donors – which sounds invasive and time consuming – encourage them to simply talk about your organization’s mission with their friends and colleagues. Then, periodically follow up your board members to see if any conversations might lead to a conversation with you (the chief executive) to make the hard ask.
Hell, some board members may best contribute by personalizing thank you notes. Clearly defining roles and tactics can help board members will likely nurture enthusiasm for their respective parts.
5. Celebrate Successes
Recognize and celebrate the successes of your board members in fundraising efforts. This can help build their confidence and encourage them to continue their efforts. It may also serve as an example for others to grab a fundraising oar and help paddling.
6. Address Concerns Around Conflicts of Interest
Be transparent about fundraising efforts and how board members can effectively engage with their networks. Provide guidelines and training around ethical fundraising practices to quell concerns.
Engage Your Nonprofit Board Members to Become Part of Your Fundraising Machine
As you can see, there are more solutions to the problems than problems themselves. While getting board members involved in fundraising can be a challenge, there are steps nonprofit organizations can take to address their concerns and encourage their participation.
There are even ways to make it fun! With some planning and foresight, nonprofits can build a strong culture of fundraising that engages their entire community. Many individuals, including board members, feel uneasy about asking for money. But this can be overcome by breaking down fundraising tasks into smaller, more manageable actions. Rather than asking board members to raise money, ask them to become enthusiastic ambassadors for your nonprofit’s mission.
By finding tasks that board members are passionate about, you can help them feel more connected to your nonprofit’s mission and motivated to make a positive impact. Of course, soliciting donations is just one part of a strong nonprofit fundraising strategy. If you need help, there’s no shame in finding a consultant who can help.