One of the primary responsibilities of a nonprofit Board is to ensure that adequate resources are available to accomplish the mission. Ensuring resources includes ensuring the organization has the funding needed to carry out its mission. Thus, ensuring resources typically includes raising money for the nonprofit.
The responsibility for fundraising is one that Board members cannot take lightly if they want their nonprofit to succeed. However, it is a responsibility that makes many Board members uncomfortable. The least popular fundraising task seems to be “The Ask”.
To avoid asking, Boards often have discussions about how they can raise money without having to ask for gifts. This is sometimes leads to the suggestion, “Let’s recruit someone who is experienced in fundraising to serve on the Board!” The suggestion is usually greeted with great enthusiasm and relief. However, this approach rarely leads to the intended results.
One of the most common misconceptions among nonprofit Boards is the idea that the Board can recruit a superstar fundraiser to serve on their Board and then rely on that Board member to do the heavy lifting when it comes to raising money. This is because great fundraisers are created, not recruited.
Fundraising is most successful when it is authentic. Donors are most likely to give when they are asked by a Board member who is passionate about the mission of the organization and who is able to effectively communicate that passion and inspire the donor’s trust. Each Board member who is genuinely engaged with the organization and passionate about the mission is a potential fundraising superstar!
So…how can nonprofit leaders help their Board members find the inner fundraiser that resides within them? One way is to ease them into it. Provide a wide array of opportunities for Board members to support the fundraising effort. The opportunities can be viewed as a continuum, with one end representing activities that provoke fear and anxiety and the other end representing activities that trigger little to no fear or anxiety.
Start with activities that present very little risk that the Board member will experience fear.
- Giving tours to donors
- Making phone calls to thank donors for gifts
- Attending donor receptions or grant award ceremonies.
Activities that may trigger a small to moderate amount of fear may include:
- Inviting people they know to be their guests at a fundraising event
- Hosting a “friendraiser”
- Participating in a visit in which someone else from the organization will be asking for a major gift.
Solicitation activities, i.e. asking, tend to create the most fear and anxiety, so reassure your Board members that they don’t have to make an ask if they don’t want to. Instead, encourage them to support the fundraising effort in other ways and monitor their success over time. As they become more successful they will likely agree to try new ways of supporting the fundraising effort, if they are given support.
Look for opportunities to connect fundraising successes with the activities Board members engaged in which ultimately led to success. Point out these connections at Board and committee meetings. Call or email Board members to let them know when one of their activities led to a gift.
The more positive experiences that Board members have with fundraising, the easier it becomes to engage them in fundraising activities. As they get more comfortable, some Board members can be moved along the continuum of opportunities to support the fundraising effort. Over time, many Board members will get more comfortable with activities that involve asking. Some will even become your fundraising superstars!