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From Reluctant to Excited: Turn Your Board into Enthusiastic Fundraisers

Posted By Celeste Viator, Hannis T. Bourgeois, LLP, Friday, July 29, 2016

If your not-for-profit organization expects its board members to play a fundraising role, you probably already know how difficult it can be to motivate them. They're busy people, and even when they have excellent connections, they're not always comfortable asking those in their network for money — however noble the cause. Fortunately, there are ways you can help board members overcome their reservations.

Up Front and Personal

Board members are obligated to help your organization implement its revenue strategy, and fundraising is a key factor in the equation. In addition to making personal donations, board members generally should be expected to help identify and reach out to prospective donors. You may ask yours to work behind the scenes or to make face-to-face appeals.

A clear understanding of what your not-for-profit does and the benefits it provides to its constituents can be motivating for board members and help them make effective fundraising appeals. Thoroughly explain your not-for-profit's mission and vision — ideally in a group to ensure consistent messages in individual appeals. Also offer the board first-hand opportunities to observe your organization's work, and regularly communicate challenges and success stories. Staff members can help by being accessible to board members and working collaboratively with them to refine fundraising appeals.

Investing in Success

Even the most accomplished board members may fear rejection or failure as fundraisers. You can enhance the confidence and abilities of your board by bringing in fundraising consultants and tapping into resources such as Foundation Center classes and Association of Fundraising Professionals membership. Any investment in board development can pay for itself in increased donations.

Professional training also will help board members grasp the nuances of fundraising — for example, the process of cultivating donors and the reasons people give. The right mindset is important, and coaching can help board members both internalize and successfully convey the idea that they're not seeking handouts. Instead, they're offering prospective donors an opportunity to be part of something meaningful and exciting. If you can recruit one board member to be the cheerleader for your fundraising efforts, the peer-to-peer support also can be instrumental in developing fundraising skills.

Baby Steps

Starting with personal appeals is a good way for fundraising-wary board members to get their feet wet. Ask your board to first solicit friends and colleagues. It's hard for prospective donors to turn down a request from an individual they know and respect and whose conviction they admire.

If board members are reluctant to approach mere acquaintances face-to-face, they might try a phone call or a letter on their board-member stationery. Once board members experience the powerful impact of such approaches, they'll become increasingly comfortable making in-person appeals to friends and strangers alike.

Encourage Creativity

Training goes a long way toward energizing your board about development but, to keep them fired up, try to involve them in the more creative aspects of fundraising. Ask your board to brainstorm new development strategies, seek their input on marketing programs and encourage them to share their vision for the organization if money were no issue.

Be sure you allow board members to contribute in ways that play to their individual strengths, interests and skills. Some will gravitate to behind-the-scenes work, while others will be comfortable in a more public role.

Willing and Able

If, after providing training and encouragement, you still have trouble getting one or two board members to solicit donations, consider whether they should be replaced. If they contribute in other essential ways that make them valuable to your organization, you may want to keep them regardless. But some holdouts simply may not be sufficiently dedicated to your not-for-profit's mission.

When recruiting new board members, it's critical to look for individuals willing and able to make fundraising a priority. Whether you're dealing with new board members or existing ones, make your expectations clear, listen to their concerns and provide training in the art of raising funds.

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