Ten things to do if you never want your board to raise a penny & So there’s this board member…

 In Smith & Dale Blog

Ten things to do if you never want your board to raise a penny:

  • Be vague. Tell them to “Go Fundraise!” This will garner the ever-familiar deer-in-headlights pose, followed by weeks of dodging your calls. (((In reality: “Please buy or sell ten tickets to the gala and refer one underwriting lead” is a tangible, executable request they can understand and manage. Board members do want to help, they just need good direction to do so!)))  (Checklist template doc)
  • Set the expectation bar low. Don’t directly ask board members for to support the organization, and certainly don’t communicate expectations and the legal and ethical roles of board members before they are recruited. (((In reality, there are two actual ‘jobs’ for board members: governance and ensuring adequate support of the organization (staffing, space, funds…). And when you hear the ‘We-are-a-working-board’ as an excuse… you say, ‘Absolutely! Thank you so much! Right now we’re working on fundraising and we can’t do it without you!’)))  (NP BOD Service 101 doc)
  • Have no written plan. Entertain all manner of high-labor low-revenue generating ideas, like cat washes, bake sales, $1 per ticket raffles, because the board hasn’t officially approved an Annual Fundraising Plan. (((In reality, a formal plan adopted by the board educated them on the Big Picture and their role in it.)))
  • Don’t train them. Osmosis and telepathy are perfectly acceptable means by which to learn the art and skill of fundraising. (((In reality, successful fundraising is like anything else, it takes strategy, practice and confidence. Provide a hands-on training of making successful asks for support. Make it fun!)))
  • Don’t create a Case for Support. Let board members guess what might be the most moving, important part of your work for investors. This will surely set them up for failure when they do talk with prospects and donors. (((In reality, engage your board to find the impactful, inspiring stories that move people to give. Ask why they care, serve and contribute. (Re)connect then with their passion for the mission!)))
  • Don’t ask them to give. Why should they have to financially support the organization in which they play a legal leadership role? Let them go ask others for support when they don’t have skin in the game; this will be embarrassing if prospects ask, and will help ensure they never ask for support again! (((In reality, their financial contribution means real buy-in to the mission and lends credibility to their requests of others. And it’s GREAT that they serve but giving their time and ideas. We need their money too.)))
    (NOTE: D&O Insurance, which protects them legally, is already a cost the organization is shouldering. If they aren’t at least covering their share of that through a donation, they are costing the nonprofit money.)
  • Make their volunteer work zero fun. People like it when the only time they see each other is periodically in structured, formal environments. (((In reality, people will work better as a team if they have some time to bond. Create a monthly drop-in, no-host social hour, at a local café or restaurant lounge, led by a board member. Ask members to bring a friend or two who also might be interested in the organization. No pressure. No RSVPs. Just networking and building connection.)))
  • Don’t invest in fundraising. Why would a nonprofit need what is tantamount to a sales/marketing presence? We can do our jobs with zero resources, right? (((In reality, no business owner in their right mind would say, ‘Let’s not have any sales or marketing team!’.  The adage that you have to spend money to make money is true. Period.)))
  • Ignore your best volunteers. Spend your time with those most adamantly opposed to raising money and supporting resource development. (((In reality, Remember the ‘Rule of Thirds’: the third who WILL (your superstars), the third who MIGHT, and the third who… wait… who… what do they look like?!  Focus on the top two tiers and alleviate a lot of stress!)))
  • Get anyone with a pulse on the board. If they’re breathing and available on second Tuesdays from 5:30-6:30pm, they’re in! (((In reality, strategic recruitment of board members is critical. Recruit those who WILL be supportive: people with enthusiasm, connections, wealth and/or access to wealth; and have diversity in demographics, geography and skill sets. An arts organization with an all-artist board may have difficulty fielding a skilled Treasurer.))) (BOD recruitment docs)

So there’s this board member…

Yeah, we all have started a sentence this way.  In my case, I once served on a board of directors for a very small non-profit organization.  They were 100% funded through federal grants.  I urged them to diversify and begin fundraising.  After a couple of years, the board grew larger and smarter and finally determined that we would hire a fundraising consultant.  This consultant would only work 10 hours per week and perform very basic fundraising tasks.  Mailings, end-of-year appeal, grant writing, you get the idea.  If we built capacity, we would consider a full-time position.

We made small progress, but it was good.  So there was a board member that wouldn’t participate in our ‘every board member campaign’.  You see, we had never asked the board for support before.  Overwhelmingly the board stepped up and we raised significant dollars (at least in comparison to $0).  This board member, however, did not.  He also raised several questions about the efficacy of the fundraising consultant and whether the money we were spending was worth it.  What was the R.O.I?

It was really interesting being on the other side of the table with this question.  (You see, typically we consultants are constantly educating and reminding about the process of consulting and need to invest in the process).  It is difficult to educate those who think that fundraising and more so, fundraising consulting is snake oil.  There is a body of knowledge that informs the work that we do.  There are best practices for every aspect of fundraising and development.  And – it’s an investment in you organization, your mission and your very existence.  You cannot expect immediate gratification, it just doesn’t work that way. Especially if your organization has never raised money, has no donor base or donor history.  It’s a slow and sometimes arduous process, but this process creates your potential for raising money.

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