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Building Board Buy-In for Fundraising

Resource Center - Foundation

(March 20, 2011) The first rule of board leadership in fundraising is to make sure that all board members understand and accept the concept that resource development is the responsibility of each and every member of the board, says Julia Ingraham Walker in the new book from AFP/Wiley, Nonprofit Essentials: A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members.

Walker will also present a session at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising in Vancouver titled “10 Steps for Making your Board an Effective Partner on your Fundraising Team.”

“The advancement staff is there to provide structure, expertise, support and to implement fundraising programs, but the board is there to lead, and it is their leadership that will inspire others to give,” she explains.

While not all board members will be equal in the fundraising arena, everyone can do something. And when recruiting board members, the members of the nominating committee should make a conscious decision to include individuals with personal qualities or skill sets that will be useful in raising funds.

Valuable Qualities

Here are some of the qualities to look for in a fundraising-minded board member.

  • Prior experience as a volunteer asking for gifts.
  • Knowledge of fundraising campaigns.
  • Access to a specific industry (e.g. mining, banking or telecommunications).
  • Access to a specific social or religious group.
  • History of philanthropic giving (outside of this nonprofit).
  • History of giving to this nonprofit.
  • Passion and commitment to the cause (and ability to articulate this to others).
  • Ability and willingness to tap new resources for giving.
  • Willingness to expend time and energy on behalf of the organization.

Once you have assembled your board or recruited new members, you need to build board ownership of your fundraising goals. This requires both staff and volunteer efforts.

Building Buy-In

Walker describes seven elements your board should consider that will help them understand the importance of the development function.

1. Education is key. All board members must understand how much money is needed, how to make the case with a donor, how the organization will use the money and why their help is essential.

2. Clarify expectations. Make it clear from the initial recruitment phase going forward that on this board, members are expected to learn how to fundraise and help with the development of resources.

3. Provide tools: Build confidence through providing good techniques. Fundraising is not an intuitive skill for most people. Attend a training session, learn through role playing, use videos, write scripts, assign roles, deal with objections, and make the work fun. Learn techniques for how to close a gift, how to overcome objections, and how to talk about planned giving.

4. Start with easy assignments and build on success. Assign less experienced volunteers to prospects who will say yes. Hold back the harder cases for the seasoned veterans. Begin with annual fund asks with your fellow board members. Make thank-you calls. Get comfortable talking about real money with real donors.

5. Assign a mentor and create donor solicitation teams. If you are a hesitant or inexperienced board member, pair up with an experienced solicitor who really loves the work. Watching the techniques and learning the ropes from an experienced solicitor is an invaluable exercise. It will help you gain confidence to develop your own skills.

6. Find ways to contribute other than asking for money. There are many other ways you can contribute beyond asking for money. Volunteers are important to every organization and can contribute on many fronts. In the fundraising area, board members can review and advise on materials, identify and rate potential donors, open the door to potential donors, and make an introductory call or write a letter to acquaint the donor with your organization.

7. Provide plenty of practice and plenty of praise. Like most skills, fundraising skills improve with practice. Keep the momentum up with calls because even the best volunteers get rusty without practice. Provide regular board-level fundraising reports that go beyond the dollars raised to highlight the assistance that active board members are providing to the fundraising effort. Make sure everyone involved with a gift gets praise when the gift is closed.

As you can see here, board members are not going to be instant fundraisers on day one of their service with your organization. Some will be more skilled than others, but a little nurturing and clear communication can go a long way.

Walker’s book serves as a helpful resource for new board members and offers a primer on the various development functions of a successful organization. There are also tools for board members who intend to expand or establish a development staff, and much more. Nonprofit Essentials: A Fundraising Guide for Nonprofit Board Members (Wiley, 2012) is available now in the AFP Bookstore.

Walker will present session on this topic at the AFP International Conference in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 3 from 9:30 - 10:15 a.m. Go to the conference website.

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