Boards play an important role in an organizations’ success. In multiple board studies, fundraising consistently ranks #1 among board areas that need improvement. Only 5% of surveyed organizations list fundraising as a board strength, and those poor participation numbers likely impact performance more than their organizations’ leaders think. If your organization is like most and struggles to get board members excited to fundraise, it might be time to re-evaluate your approach.
Today, more mission-driven organizations are emphasizing fundraising as part of their boards’ central responsibilities. Not only is it an effective strategy to leverage their extensive networks, but they’ll be able to better visualize their impact when they make a tangible difference. However, some board members shy away from fundraising due to a fear of asking others for donations or a general disinterest in it.
Whether you’re an executive director or a board officer, it’s up to you to push them in the right direction and generate excitement for fundraising. At Boardable, we understand that accomplishing this might be easier said than done. We work with thousands of mission-driven boards and supply them with the tools they need to make powerful strides toward their goals. Using our first-hand experience, we’ll explore three proven strategies to amp up energy and enthusiasm for fundraising:
- Infuse fundraising into your onboarding process.
- Get board members involved in ways other than solicitation.
- Understand common fundraising mistakes.
Fundraising doesn’t have to be a strenuous chore — it can actually be exciting for board members to get involved. It just takes a bit of persistence, and before you know it, your board members will be true fundraising heroes!
1. Infuse fundraising into your onboarding process.
Every board should set an expectation of fundraising from the start by making it a key part of the onboarding process. Establishing a culture of enthusiasm from the get-go allows you to set the tone for a board member’s entire term.
As covered in Boardable’s guide to board fundraising, mission-driven organizations can set expectations early on by taking steps like:
- Clearly articulate that fundraising is a responsibility in formal job listings for open board seats.
- Review the job description and fundraising expectations during outreach and screening interviews for new board members.
- Ask them to commit to how they’ll support fundraising in writing. They’ll be more likely to follow through on commitments if they’re written and shared.
These steps can be taken before new members ever step foot in the boardroom. Once they join the team, take extra steps to fully train them and ensure they’re well-versed in best practices. Consider offering staff-run workshops and allowing them to practice their fundraising conversations with their fellow members during board meetings.
You may find it helpful to partner new board members with fundraising mentors. New members can accompany the mentor on donor visits and learn real-world strategies, and mentors can ignite excitement by expressing their own enthusiasm for securing donations. Nothing beats the experience of watching a pro fundraiser at work!
Even after they’re fully trained and onboarded, periodically check in to see how they’re progressing and what they need help with. This will ensure your initial efforts don’t go to waste.
2. Get them involved in ways other than soliciting.
Many board members turn away from fundraising since they don’t want to ask people for money. This means you should consider other ways they can get involved with your fundraising efforts. Luckily, there are so many activities related to fundraising in which board members can participate.
Outside of solicitation, the fundraising cycle has numerous steps. It starts with identifying potential donors, then cultivating and engaging them. When they’re ready, you ask for their support and thank them so that they’ll be on your side for the long haul.
For those who aren’t ready to take on soliciting gifts, you can ask them to do everything else. Aim to put their skills to use and base their tasks on their interests. After all, people feel they’re much more valuable when they play to their strengths and participate in ways they enjoy. Here are a few ways you can involve board members that don’t involve asking for donations:
- Identify prospects. Locating promising supporters takes plenty of prospect research. Allow board members to find prospects (like friends and colleagues who express interest in the cause) and pass along insights to your development team.
- Give tours of your facilities. A lot goes into securing sponsorships and major donations, and some board members may enjoy showing these funders around your building.
- Attend public events. Showing up to events is easy and a great opportunity to interact face-to-face with donors and other funders.
- Send donor appreciation letters. Thanking your donors is a crucial part of getting them to stick around. Task your most communicative board members with sending appreciation letters. Arm them with donor thank-you letter templates like these from Fundraising Letters.
No matter how board members get involved with fundraising, it’s important that they’re contributing. What’s more, it’s important that they enjoy contributing. Offering additional ways to participate allows everyone to get involved in ways that are meaningful to them.
3. Understand common fundraising mistakes.
It can be difficult to sort through all the fundraising advice out there. There are countless fundraising best practices and ideas, and while board members need to understand what to do, it’s just as important that they understand what not to do.
Take the time to understand and communicate the challenges you’re up against. Let’s review a few common obstacles to watch for when it comes to board fundraising.
Mistake #1: Focusing too much on grants and corporate sponsors.
Between grants and sponsors, large donations can make a major impact on fundraising. However, 72% of all money given to charities is from individual donors.
Ideally, spend the bulk of fundraising time on cultivating relationships with individuals. Don’t write off grants and corporate sponsors completely, though. After all, they still make up a large portion of contributions. Instead, strike a good balance between focusing on those opportunities and your individual donors.
Mistake #2: Spending too much time on donor acquisition rather than retention.
While your board should line up opportunities for new donors to get involved, they should also consider what steps you have in place when those donors finally contribute. As a sector, the donor retention rate for mission-driven organizations dropped to 37.74% in 2020, according to Fundraising Report Card.
Ask yourself this: Is your team focused solely on raising money or on building relationships with donors who have an affinity for the cause and will want to invest in the organization’s success? To get donors to stick around, focus on the latter. Building relationships should be a major focus to ensure sustainability.
Mistake #3: Being too repetitive with your fundraising campaigns.
Falling into a fundraising rut can be detrimental to your work. It’s great to have a few consistent events — like an annual gala or 5K — that people look forward to every year, but you’ll want to toss some new fundraisers into the mix. Otherwise, you’ll bore your board members and supporters.
Encourage board members to have regular brainstorming sessions to come up with new fundraisers. For inspiration, check out this resource, which features plenty of ideas to keep donors and board members excited about fundraising.
Board members play a powerful role in your work and are your brand’s most loyal, well-known advocates. Many supporters, prospects, and sponsors perceive board members as the face of your cause, so anyone who doesn’t approach their duties with enthusiasm can leave a negative impression on others. That remains true for fundraising responsibilities.
Establishing enthusiasm for fundraising among your board starts with onboarding and is an ongoing process. To be successful, they’ll need to be fully committed and enthralled in your efforts, whether that’s by asking for donations or participating in some other way. With some persistence, the strategies we covered will lead to a culture of philanthropy among your board. Happy fundraising!
Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a board management software provider for mission-driven boards. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.