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The Think-Big Board

Resource Center - Foundation

(Feb. 8, 2011) Being a small nonprofit does not mean that you have to think small in terms of your fundraising, says Sean Hammerle, CFRE, one of many great presenters lined up for the 48th AFP International Conference on Fundraising in Chicago. He offers some ways to help you and your board think big.

Recently, Hammerle sat down with the board members of a small nonprofit in Houston and said that he wanted to hold an event for 40 people where attendees would each pay $3,500 to attend. What proved to be the biggest stumbling block? Not the donors' ability to wrap their head around the ticket price, but rather the boards'. "It will never work...who would pay that much?" board members exclaimed.

In six weeks, the event sold out. What was the difference between Hammerle and his board? He knew, from experience, what the right connections and the right fundraising conditions can achieve for a nonprofit--even a very small organization. As for his board members, they're not going to be afraid to think big next time.

"Small nonprofits tend to think like small nonprofits," Hammerle says. "Especially for first-time board members, if they have never seen the way boards play an integral role in fundraising, they may be resistant to getting involved in development at all, let alone being able to imagine that donors to their organization could be so generous."

Often it is the mindset of the staff and board that determines the revenue limit, not the giving capacity of donors, he says. The first step to changing that mindset and having your board members think big is to start with good communication.

Knowing What They Don't Know

Fundraisers are often too quick to assume that board members understand the development function. When was the last time that you sat down to have a one-on-one conversation with one or more, or ideally every member of your board to get their thoughts and discuss fundraising opportunities? If the answer is two years ago, or even one year ago, realize that a lot can change.

"It is our job as fundraisers to educate board members about development and the pivotal role they play in that process," Hammerle says. "We get frustrated when boards are always jumping from crisis to crisis and clamoring for a special event that will be the magic bullet for funding. But we forget that they don't know what we know-that fundraising takes long-term strategy and effort."

As the fundraiser, you can hold a training for board members. You can educate them about the development function. Most importantly, you can start the conversation with members individually to find out what they want, how they view the organization's progress, and how big things can happen when they get involved.

Seeing is Believing

Hammerle also advises fundraisers that thinking big as a board member is much more likely to happen when they see what is possible with their own eyes. Set your board member up for success--send him or her out to make an ask when you know the donor is likely to make a large gift. Or, go out and find a donor who commits to a large challenge gift to get the ball rolling.

When the board sees that first large gift come in, it's like a football team up against a difficult opponent-one touchdown early in the game gives the team real confidence that winning is possible, Hammerle says. It's a great motivator.

The lesson? You, too, can have a think-big board. Don't expect them to "get it" automatically. You are in a position to show them what is possible.

Sean D. Hammerle, CFRE, is chief development officer at Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. He will present a session at AFP's International Conference on Fundraising titled "The Ever-Changing World of Small Non-Profit Boards..." where he will discuss more ways to make board members' experience better and more rewarding for themselves and the organizations they serve.

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