“I will do anything for this organization except to ask others for money. I am just not comfortable with fundraising.”
Even though Board members are among your most convincing, influential solicitors, why are so many of them reluctant to ask others to give? And what can you do about it?
One of the first steps is to help your Board members understand what fundraising is really all about…and it’s not just asking friends for money (as many fear). Si Seymour, one of the earliest leaders in the field, describes the process of securing gift support as requiring five steps: identifying potential donors, informing them about your organization, interesting them in learning more, involving them in your organization, and then finally, inviting them to invest in your organization. Identification, Information, Interest, Involvement, and Investment. This process is all about building relationships; only one of these five steps involves inviting someone to give to your organization.
Board members play an important role in fundraising by nurturing relationships to strengthen your organization. They know people you may not, can invite others to attend or host events, and can often get through to a prospective donor when you cannot. Because Board members are volunteers charged to hold the institution in trust at the highest levels, they are seen as “honest brokers,” knowledgeable, well-informed, influential and able to inspire others through their example. Board members are in a unique position to leverage their personal networks to help your institution, deepen others’ understanding of your institution and strengthen relationships, all of which are necessary prerequisites to securing gift support.
Another important way to help your Board members feel more comfortable as solicitors is training. A Board member who receives solicitation training and has practiced will feel more confident when talking with others about giving. Invest the time in a formal training program for your Board members willing to solicit others, arm them with background information about their assigned prospective donors, and give them opportunities to role play, including anticipating possible questions and overcoming objections. Also, create the time for the volunteer to meet with the CEO or member of the staff who will accompany him or her on each call so that the team is clear about the respective roles of the two people. Another great upcoming training opportunity is to bring your Board members to the upcoming Gonser Gerber workshop on Becoming Effective Gift Solicitors, November 29-30, in Louisville, KY.
Third, provide the staff support needed for your Board members to be successful. Assign only a manageable numbers of potential donors (probably no more than five to start) and establish and adhere to a realistic timetable for completing the work. Board members are busy people and sometimes need reminders of what they agreed to do. Don’t hesitate to make follow up calls or send follow up emails summarizing assignments made, along with the timetable, and to make regular “check in” calls to see if progress is being made and offer to help.
I assure you that all this is worth the effort. Having made calls alone or with a staff colleague as a college president and advancement professional myself, I know how much more effective it is to be accompanied by a member of the Board. You will get an audience, attention and level of engagement that exceeds what staff can do alone. And as you deepen a relationship with a potential donor, you will also enhance the likelihood of greater gift support for your institution.