Often, when I am working with boards and talking about their role in fundraising, someone (often many someones) crosses her arms and snarls, “I didn’t sign up for this.” And, indeed, she probably didn’t, Whoever recruited her probably said words to the effect of come on the board; it’s fun.
Being a board member can be fun, but it is also a lot of responsibility and, often, a lot of work. Part of that work is ensuring that the organization has the financial wherewithal to do the important work of fulfilling its mission. Notice, I did not say fundraising. I didn’t even say being a major donor, though I would hope that everyone on the board was asked to join the board as a result of his or her existing commitment to the organization.
As for fundraising–I’m not sure when it became the board’s job. i suspect that happened when government funding started winding down, when it became harder to find or keep an angel.
Don’t convince yourself that what I’ve written means the board doesn’t have fundraising responsibilities. They do. But, and it is a big but, it is not something that they (you, if you are a board member) should be expected to accomplish all by their lonesome. They should be a partner, an ambassador, a door-opener and yes, sometimes a closer, for all fundraising efforts. This means that you, the professional staff, have the job of coordinating and facilitating board member’s fundraising efforts.
What this means on a practical level is that when you–professional staff member–ask them to “bring in 5 names of people you can ask for a gift,’ you will be disappointed. In part that disappointment will come because you asked for the wrong thing.
For starters, before your board members will feel good about introducing their friends and colleagues to the organization, they need to feel that donors–all donors- are treated well. So start them off with stewardship responsibilities. Ask them to call or write notes to recent donors. Then move them to contacting those donors who haven’t been so recent, and see if they can connect enough to bring that lapsed donor back.
Engage your board members in the work you do. That way they can engage others. The best way to do that is not to tell them about all your activities. The best way is to get to know them. Individually. At least twice a year, you should be meeting with every single board member one on one, finding out about what moves them to serve on the board.
Speaking of the board, use part of every board meeting to educate. Bring in program managers, clients, even staff to talk with them (not at them, mind) about the work that is being done. Then connect the dots between board work and what the organization does. Show them clearly the impact of their board membership.
Provide your board with tools so they can be great ambassadors. Share stories, successes. Talk about needs (not lacks—but rather, discuss the situation that exists and how your work can make a change for the better). Ask them to share their values and their passions.
As you all get to know each other better, you can talk candidly about what they are willing and able to do. If you cultivate your relationship to them, and theirs to your organization, I’m betting that both of you will be surprised at how much more that is that either of you ever expected.
Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build stronger, more committed boards. Learn more at http://www.janetlevineconsulting.com. While there, sign up for the monthly newsletter.