Alex Comfort, CFRE
Anyone who is a non-profit professional understands the challenge of getting Board Members to grasp fully their fiduciary responsibility: they are to help raise the funding for the agency as well as to advise you on how to spend the money. Getting Board Members involved in fundraising is one of the great challenges of non-profit work.
Things to do first:
- Have a contract for each Board Member to sign before they begin. If you have not instituted the practice, then get all your current members to sign one immediately (it’s really OK for some to resign rather than sign this). Then make this contract part of your recruitment. It’s fair to say that all Board Members help with fundraising in some way. (Sample letter attached.)
- Recruit Board Members with staff input. Structure your process so that you really ask people who can help you. (NOTE: never have one person say “no” for another. If you want a particular person to serve, make sure the right person asks him or her.)
- During your orientation for new members, spend some time talking about your fundraising process. Let them know exactly what you do with regard to annual fund, special events, major gifts, grant funding, endowments, planned giving and earned income activities. (Almost no non-profit does all of these!)
Specific things Board Members might do to assist you:
- Convene a task force to meet quarterly to talk about new prospects for your charity. This can be the best thing Board Members can do for you. Try to come up with at least 5 major donor prospects out of each meeting. Perhaps they will be willing to make the introductions.
- See if they are willing to hold a meeting at their house one time a year to introduce your mission. This has become a staple for many successful non-profits. The individual member will be responsible for the food and for recruiting at least half of those to attend.
- Board Members can take on the task of calling all the businesses in the area as well as professional associations to find out who is in charge of their charitable giving. They can also get the basics of how the company makes its decisions. And, with some training, they can either go with a staff member or eventually by themselves to make presentations to corporations or associations.
- Board Members can be taught how to research foundations either in your office or at the local library. And then they can begin to learn how to write proposals.
- Some Board Members can be trained to go with you on solicitation calls. Often the member can just tell the story of the important work you do. But be careful about confidentiality in major gift matters. If you allow a Board Member to know confidential information about a donor’s prior giving or any private history, you are essentially “deputizing” that member to be a staff member. Do so very carefully and judicially.
- If it is appropriate with regard to confidentiality, Board Members may be able to interact with program operations in order to learn heartwarming stories they can share for direct mail/email/social media solicitations. For example, a Board Member might visit a client of Meals on Wheels who is a great candidate for a wonderful story. Again, be very careful about confidentiality. Many non-profits could not allow Board Members to “troll for great stories”. However, if this is possible, members also might uncover some people who could come to meetings of the Board and give short stories which could encourage Board Members to be more active.
- Many charities are having Board Members take cards at each meeting of the Board to thank donors. They do not get specifics on the gift, they just phone the donors to thank them for their giving. They have wonderful experiences with this activity, please donors who are amazed that they are not being asked for an additional gift, and allow the donor base to know that Board Members are involved.
- Likewise, Board Members can write notes on direct mail solicitations to encourage giving – whether with people they know or, if they prefer, those they do not know. These notes can make a big difference in the donor’s response.
- Assess the menial tasks in your office. You may find some things (stuffing envelopes, researching addresses, writing holiday or birthday notes) that Board Members might take on. Again, be careful about confidentiality matters, but do not presume what might be “below” your Board Members. Many people love this kind of activity. Just bring pizza or doughnuts.
Understand that this is not an exhaustive list. ASK YOUR BOARD MEMBERS WHAT THEY WOULD LIKE TO DO! Or give them a copy of these ideas and see which ones resonate. Give them repeated training and be patient with their progress. What seems easy to you may be incredibly difficult for them. Just know that involvement for them and praise from you will go a long way in increasing your fundraising total. As much as you can, make them a part of “THE TEAM”!