The Enthusiastic Board

Home tomorrow.  With mixed emotions.  Time has flown by.  And, as usual, I haven’t done all I planned.  As usual, I didn’t accomplish all I thought I would. On the other hand, I have had a terrific time.  Best of all, I met some wonderful new friends.

Some of these new friends are fundraisers here in Paris.  Most of them (but not all) work for American organizations.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, whether the organizations were American, French or international, many of the challenges were the same.  The one heard the most?  How do you motivate your Board to actually fundraise?

Almost to a person, these colleagues liked their Board members and thought they were committed to the organization. But, they told me, their Board members are hesitant to open their address books and even more reluctant to make an ask.  Sound familiar?

“How,” asked one, “can I convince them that this is their job?

Long time readers of this blog know that I’m not convinced that fundraising—actually asking someone for a gift—is the job of the Board.  In truth, I am less concerned with getting Board members to be fundraisers than I am in having them be an enthusiastic ambassador for the organization.  I want them to spread their enthusiasm to others.  Then I want them to partner with the organization to pull these enthusiastic newcomers into a stronger relationship with us.  I also want my Board to be leaders in keeping donors interested and involved.

Interested and involved prospects will, over time, become invested donors.  Which is the main goal of our jobs.

“How do I get my Board to do these things?” is one question I frequently get asked.

“Small, incremental and frequent steps,” I tell them.  “With lots of celebrating for any success—even (perhaps especially) the small ones.”  Ask your Board member to:

  • Thank donors.  I find that asking them to write a personal, handwritten note is more effective (in the sense that it will get done—especially if I provide notecard with a preaddressed envelope) than asking them to call.  Often, they don’t.
  • Invite a friend to take a tour.  Or have breakfast in the CEO’s office with the CEO…and the Board member.
  • Be a greeter at an event.  Have each Board member spend 10-20 minutes standing at the sign in table, welcoming each and every guest.  A visible badge stating their role (as greeter and/or as Board member) will make it easier for them to shake hand’s and say, “Thank you for coming to our event.”
  • Task them—once a month, once a quarter, once a year—with something specific:
    • Introduce a colleague to the organization (and to the fundraising staff)
    • Host an intimate event where at least 75% of the attendees are their contacts.
    • Join you as you give a tour to someone they don’t know
    • Give a talk about the organization (or arrange for you to give the talk) at their service or professional club.

Whatever it is, keep it simple.  Simple enough that they will feel it is something they can (and therefore, will) do and easily tracked by you.  Yes, they are grownups and yes, they are capable, but also yes they are busy.  So you must do everything appropriate to ensure that they do what you ask them to do.

And then, thank them—publicly, privately, frequently, and (most of all) sincerely—for all that they do.

Make sure your Board members know how valuable their actions are and how much they contribute to your organization.  And make sure others know how really committed and involved your Board members are.

Janet Levine is a consultant, trainer and writer who works with nonprofit organizations helping them to increase their capacity and to have truly terrific Boards.  Find out more at