Board members hate quid pro quo fundraising, and I don’t blame them. How intrusive to ask one’s board members to cough up their entire contact list, and how unstrategic.
I recently led one of the many board trainings I conduct each year, and heard the same complaints I always hear:
- “I don’t want to ask all my friends because they’ll ask me in return.”
- “My friends are deadbeats. I’m tired of asking and not getting anywhere.”
- “My friends are cheap. They give less to my organization than I give to theirs.”
- “I’m tapped out. I’ve asked everyone I know.”
- “They have their own organizations and areas of interest. They’re not interested in mine.”
And they’re right! All these are valid reasons for them not to want to cast the net wide. They should be valid reasons for you as well.
These gifts are not what charitable giving is about. It’s not about arm-twisting, guilt-inflicting, and you-rub-my-back-I’ll-rub-yours fundraising. It’s about inspiring people in one’s circle to give by sharing the organization’s vision and getting them excited about the impact so they enthusiastically contribute…just like your board members do.
So, assuming you’re raising some important dollars through fundraising events and letter-writing campaigns, what are some steps you can take to make this less painful to board members and more strategic for your organization?
Stop Asking Board Members to Fill Tables They Buy
It’s not about quantity. Don’t be enticed by the excitement of saying you had 500 people at your benefit when 200 of them couldn’t care less about the organization and are only there as a favor to your board member or because you throw a great party.
Your board members should only invite those who they believe will be interested in the organization if they’re exposed to it. Yes – this means not inviting people who might spend a lot at your silent auction, because your board members are going to have to spend a lot at their silent auction!
Even on a pure cost/benefit analysis, think about how much those eight seats cost and whether you’re really making much profit on the items people buy. In most cases you’re not making much at all.
Stop Asking Board Members to Send Letters to Everyone
How awful it must feel to send out all those letters and get such a small return. Why ask board members to solicit small gifts? You should solicit small gifts through direct mail, phonathons, and crowdfunding. Board members should only be soliciting gifts worthy of their time. What size gift is worth their time? Is it $500 or $1,000? $2,500? More?
Try offering your board members a buy-out option. Let’s say they raised $1,500 from 20 friends and family last year. Ask them if they would rather contribute that amount themselves instead of asking any of those 20 people to give. I bet they’d say yes, especially as they’re probably giving similar gifts to their friends’ and families’ organizations, which they’d like to stop giving. It might be a zero-sum game for them and now they not only feel better but they’ve made a bigger investment in your organization!
Train Your Board How to Ask
Organizations ask board members to solicit through events and letter writing because that is what they understand and accept as their role. And it’s less daunting because it’s a bit indirect. You send invitations or letters and wait to see what comes back. It doesn’t matter (though it does!) if the response rate is low. Think hunting and pecking!
Train your board on the art and science of fundraising and they can do so much more. Give them the tools and the perspective they need. For most this is new territory. When you ask them to fundraise they see it as “hitting up” people for funds. You and I know it’s about building relationships. Build the relationships and the gifts will come. Once board members fully understand the process, and the key role they play in cultivation, they can more strategically partner with you in developing resources for your organization.