It felt like death. The room had been lively, people talking and laughing. Eyes all bright; lots of smiles.
Then the Board president says “Before get into the business end of the meeting, I’d like to introduce our consultant, Janet Levine, who is going to talk with you about a fundraising.”
And the minute that topic was introduced, the light went out of all the eyes, the lightness of being suddenly gets heavy, and everyone—every single person goes inward, arms crossed over chests and all smiles gone.
Why is that? I know it wasn’t me. I hadn’t even gotten to the front of the room yet. But it happens virtually every single time.
So, “Fundraising,” I say in my brightest voice. “It’s why you all joined the Board, right?”
Sometimes, lines like that get a laugh and the freeze starts to thaw almost immediately. Other times, it’s much harder to come out of the cold. There is a definite correlation between the success of the organization’s fundraising program and the amount of time to thaw. But even when they laugh early on, it’s a struggle. For them.
We talk about barriers to fundraising. Fear of rejection; don’t know who to ask. Don’t know how to ask. I love when they say that. Because, after all, asking is only one step of many in development.
And so we talk about what the Board’s role really is. And we discuss the different ways each member can (and must) participate. Each session is different because each group is different, but what is the same is the overriding sense that most board members have that fundraising is somehow akin to begging or twisting someone’s arm to do something they would rather not do.
I spend a lot of time talking about attitude—and about the joy making a gift gives to the giver. I ask them to think about a charitable gift they’ve given, and how they felt about it. Smiles begin to creep on people’s faces.
For some, fundraising is easy. They are the passionate or, more commonly, the fearless. Others are more cautious. But as they learn that fundraising is also thanking people for what they’ve done (thanks to someone else doing that ask); telling others why YOU are so excited about your organization; hosting an event so your friends can learn why you spend so much time with this organization, fundraising becomes less fearful, more something they can do.
And they can. But if you are the professional staff, you really need to stop complaining that your Board doesn’t understand their role and make sure you understand yours.
I see many a volunteer who would do a bang up development job if only there was someone backing him or her up. Too many volunteers who are stuck at the last step because they need help with the next, and too many professionals who just don’t understand that there most important job is to ensure the Board’s fundraising success. That means you are there for them, helping to set those appointments, working with them to define what needs to be done and sometimes, often times, it is your job to take that next step with them or without. And then it is your job to thank them for whatever they did—and to help them get comfortable enough, feel successful enough, that next time they will walk a step or two further.
Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity. Training boards and professional staff how to work together is a big piece of the puzzle and a lot of how she spends her time. Learn more at http://janetlevineconsulting.com. While there, sign up for our free monthly newsletter.