Have you ever wondered what the novel Fifty Shades of Grey has to do with the board’s role in fundraising? Me. Neither. But after spending a morning with Board Governance and Fundraising Consultant, Carol Weisman, I now see the connection between this notorious recent work of popular fiction and the infamously (and perhaps most) difficult part of nonprofit fundraising — engaging the board in the dreaded Ask. And to be sure, I and a room full of development professionals, consultants, and board members are likely not to forget it.
The highlights below will hardly replicate Carol’s sense of humor or her years of fundraising and board engagement experience. Hopefully, the content and the questions that follow will help spark some creativity, offer some validation and/or inspire your own efforts as you work to engage with your board in fundraising. We all could use a little more fun and fundamentals (and funny!) in our own fundraising efforts. Enjoy it… seriously.
When Making the Ask Remember…
- What’s most important when engaging donors is THEIR story, not yours. Often times in the nonprofit sector we think mostly about our own needs, fundraising and otherwise. So many of us have rehearsed our “elevator speech” that it can sound just that… rehearsed. Carol’s recommendation: Get to know your donors by listening to their story and learning about their interest in your organization. What motivates their giving to your organization and others? What things do they like about your organization or want to learn? How do they prefer to be recognized and stay updated on the impact of their gifts?
- It’s about making a connection and aligning your beliefs. Sometimes the ask can be the scariest part for even the most seasoned board member. Help take away the fear, by allowing your board members to use their participation in fundraising as a way to connect with others and share their passion for your organization. Board members do NOT need to know everything about your agency to have a successful Ask – they need to be able to ask questions of and actively listen with donors. They also need to know they can turn to you in the meeting or afterwards to get those engaging answers prospective or current donors are seeking. Empower board members to connect with potential/current donors and support them as they work to support you.
- Fundraisers are resilient. As a population, most professional fundraisers are fairly thick skinned (i.e. they can handle a “no” even if they don’t like it; in fact, many of us live by the “a no, is just one step closer to a yes” mantra. But what about your board members? How are you promoting their fundraising resiliency? When they have a successful Ask how do you celebrate? When they don’t, how do you empower them or lift their spirits? Fundraising is a team effort – Board members, support your fundraising professional and rely on their expertise to guide your efforts; Fundraisers, remember that your job can be scary to a lot of people…find ways to make it fun and promote resiliency and confidence in the Ask with your board team.
When Promoting Donor Stewardship Remember…
- Donor appreciation is both art and science. Much of donor stewardship is about expressing gratitude in a way that’s meaningful and appropriate for the donor. Do you know how your donors prefer to be acknowledged? How do you track that information? How do you engage your board members in thanking donors? When was the last time you revisited your stewardship efforts? What is your strategy? And if you don’t have a donor stewardship strategy, start with gratitude.
- Stewardship is the easiest and most comfortable way to get your board involved in fundraising. One of the most effective ways to steward a donor is to call and thank them for a gift…. It’s also one of the easiest for a board member to participate in. Imagine how much fun it is to just call and say thanks. In a world of decreasing gratitude and increasing demand for resources (time, talent and in this case, treasure) getting your board members to serve as ambassadors of gratitude just might help them spread the cheer and see the value of their work with your organization. How are you engaging your board members in saying thank you to donors? How are you sharing their experiences when they do get to say thank you to other board members?
- Know your donors and donor base. When it comes to knowing your donors, there’s both a personal side and an “impersonal” one… otherwise known as your donor database. This tool can help you track your efforts and record valuable information about your donors including personal connections, meeting with your team and donor motivations and interests. What systems do you have in place to help you and your board and staff communicate with donors in an effective way? Is it still working for you? Can you track donor’s interests in your organization and history with it? Or your donor retention rate?
This article first appeared in the Gulf Coast Community Foundation blog in April, 2016.