Many board members feel uncomfortable asking for money; however, fundraising is a key leadership role of all board members. This includes deciding fundraising campaigns and setting fundraising goals. The organization's board leadership and staff leaders work together with the full board to define and delineate their role so they are equipped and confident. Start with the basics to help members build their abilities to solicit donations for the agency and tell the story of the good work being done in the community.
This activity should take about one hour and can be done during a board meeting or retreat. Each board member will need paper and pen /or/ you can make a printed handout (attachment) with key information about the agency they can work from and take with them when they leave.
(10 min) First, ask your board to take a few minutes to think about the following and free write for 2 minutes and discuss in pairs for 5-7 minutes:
- How do you feel when you help others?
- How do you feel being in service to this agency?
- What about our clients/services keeps you involved/motivated/inspired?
Use these thoughts and feelings to help portray the reason their peers should give. Their peers might want that same opportunity to make a positive difference to their community.
(15 min) Next, provide the board member with their fundraising roadmap. Knowledge and commitment are the two strongest tools anyone asking for a gift can have, and they go hand in hand. Go through the following providing answer and talking points for each bullet.
- Mission/Vision/Values. What we do, what we hope we can achieve, what we believe.
- Agency budget information. For example, 25% of our budget annually comes from donors like you.
- Long and short-term needs. For example, we need to raise $50,000 this year and right now we need coats in child sizes for the winter.
- Donation options: cash, in-kind, and bequests. If someone says they don't have cash now, have thoughts about other ways they can help the agency or join you in fundraising?
- Expected outcomes. What will the agency do with the donation? For example, $100 pays for one hour of therapy for a trauma victim.
- Access to services. Know how to respond if someone in the community needs to access services. Where do they start? What services are available?
Other strategies to review:
- Reframe the ask. Instead of talking about money, talk about impact. Don't say we need to raise $10,000. Say "we need to help 50 more children learn to read."
- Talk about how community support increase agency esteem and staff morale. "Each $25 check we get shows our staff that the community has their back."
(20 min) Now, practice!
In pairs, have the board members use their "cheat sheet" to practice asking one another to support the agency. Role playing builds confidence! After practice, share back to the larger group how it went and share strategies.
(15 min) Finally, make two lists.
The first list should be 5-7 people (friends, family, local business owners, corporate representatives, etc.) they know personally who have the capacity to donate. The second should be a list of 5-7 people, they do not know personally, but believe have reasons and means to support your organization.
At the end of the meeting, each board member gives their first lists to the Chair of the fundraising committee, development staff member, ED, or board chair (whichever is most appropriate for your organization). Let them know you will follow up with each of them individually to review their list, provide any contact history, and develop a strategy for cultivation moving forward.
Chart on the wall the names suggested on the second list and ask the board to play a game of six-degrees of Kevin Bacon — who in the room has the closest connection to the prospective donor? Then, as a group, do some creative brainstorming to figure out how to make a connection.
Follow-up (for the fundraising committee Chair/development staff/ED/Board Chair) after the board meeting.
As an accountability measure, make an appointment with each board member to review their list of people they know (or add to it). Discuss the approach for each donor, prospective donation amount, and timeline goal for reaching out. Review any relevant items that came out of the board brainstorming session and plan for that as well. This is also a good time for any last minute practice!
- Bahar-Cook, R., Motivating Your Board to Ask Their Peers for Money May Be Easier Than You Think (2020).
- Poderis, T., How Board Members Can Become Effective Fundraisers (2003).