Fundraising? Now? When the sky is falling in on some of our most generous board members?
Yes, say the experts at the Governance Matters Roundtable, because creating a fundraising board is a process, not a pledge drive. Board members need training to be comfortable and adept at raising funds.
Ideally, every board member can and should make a "personally substantial" gift to the board, according to Margaret Holman, president of Holman Consulting, Inc.
To reach that ideal, board members must be passionate about the organization, knowledgeable about its work, and trained in the many ways in which funds can be raised. (For more on this subject, check out Embrace Your Mission, Then Sell It.)
It's not just asking for a hand-out. It's caring about the organization, and facilitating contacts with donors, as well as putting your money where your heart is.
First things first: Assess the problem
Do your board members contribute to the organization in every way that they can? Of course they do pro bono work, but do they also contribute something "substantial?"
If the group closest to your organization -- your board -- doesn't give, it sends a signal to every potential donor and grantor. Board members who do not attend meetings, donate or seem to care ("deadwood") should be moved off the board in a respectful manner, but first find out why they are disengaged. Non-participation can be rectified.
Holman suggests asking board members where this organization stands in their charitable portfolio. Most people, she says, have a portfolio of organizations to which they give regularly, generously and happily. If your organization is not one of a board member's top three recipients, then the question to the board member is, "Why are you here?"
Mark Kalish agrees that talking to board members individually can be revealing. Many board members do not understand the fundraising aspect of their job or lack passion for the organization or are just afraid of fundraising. "Passion," Kalish says, "translates to accepting fundraising as a board responsibility. Excuses may range from 'I'm giving my time' to 'Isn't that a staff responsibility?' "
Big donors otherwise disengaged from the organization can be promoted to an Emeritus Board or a Founder's Circle, Peggy Brennan Hassett suggests. Hassett is herself a veteran of many nonprofit boards. Those honored by promotion to emeritus status should be appreciated, she stresses, as should all board members. That means contact other than during pledge drives, invitations to events and board meetings, insider briefings and appreciation for all that they do.
In fact, before you ask them for money, put them on committees, ask their opinions, invite them to dinner. "Make them feel valued as human beings," she says.
Build the "right" board
Board members must know from the start exactly what is expected of them. To ensure that new members are ready for the responsibility of board membership, consider the following:
- Have one-on-one conversations about the organization and the work of the board.
- Host a "Board Rush," a social event to which potential board members are invited and volunteering for the organization is discussed. Current board members can then personally follow up with promising candidates.
- Have current board members mentor new board members. This includes sitting with them at meetings and calling them after the meeting in case they had questions or concerns.
- Provide a "Board Prospectus" to potential members, outlining the benefits and expectations of board membership.
For those already on the board but are not donating or participating, the panel suggested several options. First, talk to each individually and informally. Ask them about their experience on the board, and what they'd like that experience to be.
If non-participation is part of the board culture, establish a task force to review the bylaws and develop a board manual that sets out terms, expectations, number of meetings, amount of giving and "getting," i.e. bringing in donations from others. The requirements then come from their peers, not from the outside.
Every board meeting should be meaty, interesting and educational if you want board members to come and to care. The panel provided a number of ideas:
- Use a Consent Calendar. If regular committee reports are sent to board members in advance of the meeting, the reports can be approved in one vote. That leaves time for more interesting discussions.
- Do away with Robert's Rules of Order to stimulate exciting and open discussion.
- Eliminate the Development Committee so fundraising becomes the responsibility of everyone on the board.
- Add an educational component to every meeting, something that gets board members excited about the program or gives then insight into the organization. This may be as simple as holding a board meeting at a location where members can see the organization in action or meet the people being helped.
- Bring in speakers from the boards of other, similar-sized organizations, who are passionate about fundraising.
- Always put fundraising at the top of the agenda so its importance is obvious.
- Give board members the opportunity to meet socially and bond with each other and the organization.
- Run meetings professionally. Start on time and end on time.
- Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge -- everything, from the person who hosted an event to the person who invited potential donors.
Overcome fear of the "F" word
Asking your friends for money doesn't appeal to anyone. But fundraising is more than asking for a handout. "Don't ask them to fundraise if they haven't done it before," Holman cautions. "Train them."
Kalish has a list of fundraising-in-disguise tasks that ease board members into the fundraising process. Board members can:
- Prepare a case statement.
- Develop an "elevator speech," that quickly summarizes the organization's merits and goals.
- Host events in their homes for potential donors.
- Greet donors at special events.
- Accompany the chief executive officer on a visit to a foundation or corporation.
- Research, screen and rate prospective donors.
- Add personalized notes to direct-mail letters.
- Invite friends and colleagues to special events.
- Suggest three or four prospective donors with the understanding that they will not be asking those people for money. The prospects are invited to events and contacted by others.
- Work with staff to tailor proposals to a target foundation or corporation.
- Send personal thank-you notes.
- Meet with donors to request their ideas and input.
None of these involves actually asking friends or colleagues for money but all lead to greater involvement by board members and a better understanding of the process of fundraising. All efforts, whether hosting an event or e-mailing donors, should be acknowledged in some way. Board appreciation is critical to board involvement, Hassett says.
And don't expect them to pester their friends for money, Hassett says. Each board member can be given a portfolio of contacts -- not the ones s/he suggested -- to cultivate during the next year. The board member's responsibility is to invite the prospects to events, greet them, and follow up with e-mails and thank-you notes: in other words, to provide a personal touch.
Fundraising, like other skills, requires training. "Make them more comfortable with the process," Kalish says, "and it is a process. It is not just the 'ask'."
Stephanie Pinder, executive director of Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center, took her board from absentee and non-contributory to highly involved and adept at fundraising. It was a multi-year process during which she drew on the resources of capacity-building organizations, such as BoardSource, BoardAssist, United Way Linkages, and Youth I.N.C., and hired a consultant. Partnerships with such agencies can increase the board's confidence and ability to do its own fundraising, she says.
Her board has members without deep pockets but they are expected to give to whatever degree they can. One hundred percent involvement by the board is critical, the panel agreed.
But now? Isn't it time to back off with the financial world in turmoil? No, it's not, because creating a board that is passionate and effective about fundraising will take time. And keeping in touch, socially and personally, may bear fruit later.
Margaret M. Holman, President, Holman Consulting, Inc.
Ms. Holman is president of Holman Consulting, a general fund-raising consulting firm in New York that she founded in 1991. She has held senior fundraising management positions at a variety of arts, health and educational institutions throughout the country. Ms. Holman is president of the Planned Giving Group of Greater New York, sits on the board of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Foundation, and is an advisory board member of the European Association for Planned Giving.
Peggy Brennan Hassett, Partner, Hassett Belfer Senior Housing
Ms. Hassett has worked with a range of nonprofit organizations: government, political, social service, public information, government relations, and treatment/addiction services. She has served on the boards of the Hazelden Foundation, Damon Runyon Cancer Research, New York City Landmark, Palm Beach Juvenile Diabetes, Hazelden New York and the New York Council on Alcoholism, as well as many upstate New York Boards.
Mark Kalish, President, Kalish & Associates
Mr. Kalish has more than 30 years experience in fundraising in the not-for-profit sector. He founded the fundraising and nonprofit consulting firm, Kalish & Associates in 1998. He was vice president of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science and was director of the Northeast Regional Office of the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital for 10 years. He was vice president of Institutional Advancement at Hunter College of the CUNY and was associate director of University Development at NYU.
Stephanie Pinder, Executive Director, Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center
Ms. Pinder is the executive director of the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center and has done extensive work with her board of directors in the area of fundraising. The Center provides services to people of all ages in Manhattan, including two childcare centers, and co-sponsors an alternative high school with the NYC Board of Education, as well as a remedial reading and tutorial program for school age children, lunch and social programs for seniors, family programs and other community services.
Moderator: Philip Gartenberg, Ph. D. President, Fulcrum Associates LLC
After more than 20 years of executive experience in not-for-profit strategic planning, management and fundraising development, Mr. Gartenberg established Fulcrum Associates in 2006 with the goal of bringing his expertise to the not-for-profit community, particularly human service agencies. He has also served in senior executive positions in New York State Government.