Engaged Boards Will Fundraise! Three Important Actions to Get Them There

Published on October 18, 2021

Brian Saber

President of Asking Matters
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How many times have you tried to get your board to fundraise only to find your efforts failing? If it’s numerous times, you’re in good company. However, Michael Davidson and I believe there is a way forward if you’re willing to strengthen the governance of your board and if you move away from transactional fundraising toward relational fundraising. Here are three steps to take today.

Treat the Board Experience as a Two-Way Street

Board members come to your organization because they care and want to make a difference Along with that they are often, and rightly so, excited to be part of a group, meet new people, and learn new skills. When their experience includes personal growth and meaningful new connections, they will be more inspired and more motivated to do the heavy lifting, which fundraising often is.

Action #1:
Ask your board members what they’d like to get out of their experience in addition to making an impact. You might have a group discussion, but we also recommend annual one-on-one meetings with a board leader to set a plan for the year that includes personal growth and accomplishment.

Understand the Importance of Teamwork and Work to Build It

Most of the work of a board is done as a team. Decisions are made by the team. Fiduciary responsibility belongs to the team. Governance is accomplished by a team. If the team isn’t strong, the work won’t be solid, and the institution will get bogged down in inertia or worse.

Further, much fundraising is done by board members individually, perhaps in partnership with staff. While the work isn’t conducted as a team, it is deeply dependent on a strong sense of team. Team members can’t do their work if they don’t know what it is, and they won’t do it if they don’t believe everyone else is doing theirs. We believe everyone on a board needs to help fundraise (not necessarily solicit gifts!), and that means everyone feeling they’re part of a team where everyone is doing this hard work.

Action #2:
Have everyone on your board take the Asking Styles Assessment at askingmatters.com, and then map out the results on the grid. At your next board meeting take 10 minutes to discuss how the balance of Styles impacts the work of the board, and break people into groups of two or three to discuss how they might better work together given their Styles.

Stop Quid-Pro-Quo, Tit-for-Tat Board Fundraising

Most board fundraising we encounter is transactional. Board members hit up people they know for gifts, often having to make gifts to those people’s organizations in return. It’s not getting anyone anywhere (listen to this chat I had with Jerry Panas a few years back). Worse than that, it’s deadening. Board members hate it and eventually throw up their hands and say “I don’t know who else to ask.”

Action #3 – A Bigger Step!:
Try to wean yourself off this practice and, instead, look at board members as mini major gift officers helping you cultivate and steward your organization’s donors. Unless you’re one of the big non-profits you don’t have major gift staff to spend the time educating, cultivating, involving, and thanking your current donors. We believe board members can make a much bigger long-term impact doing this work rather than hitting up friends for transactional gifts that don’t lead to relationship building. Start by having each board member thank four current donors, and then a few months later write to those four donors updating them on the work of your organization.

Engaged boards will fundraise. Michael and I have seen it done successfully through our work over the years. But it doesn’t just happen. It takes good governance and setting board members up to do the right work. Start that work today with these three steps and your board will raise more funds for you starting tomorrow.

Brian Saber is the recent co-author, with Michael Davidson, of Engaged Boards Will Fundraise! How Good Governance Inspires Them,” available tomorrow at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and even perhaps your local bookstore! He is also the author of “Asking Styles: Revolutionize Your Fundraising,” and “Boards and Asking Styles: A Roadmap to Success.” He can be reached at askingmatters.com and briansaber.com.


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