I recently attended a board meeting for a local grass roots nonprofit organization. After the Executive Director provided information on upcoming initiatives and programs, it was the Development Directors turn to speak. He reiterated key points shared by the Executive Director and provided a fundraising update. Next, he hesitantly and without much confidence asked for board members to suggest names of individuals that might be willing to provide funding.
The room was silent. Not a peep from a board member. After a short time that felt like an eternity, the Board Chair requested that board members with contacts connect with the Development Director after the meeting.
I’ve seen variations of this scenario play out at board meetings over and over again. Silence or a non-answer is almost always the result. Often development directors view this as the right way to seek board support, yet the reality is this is rarely productive for grass roots nonprofit organizations.
The best approach is to engage with board members on a one on one basis and discuss why they are involved, revisit their emotional connection to the mission, review others to potentially contact, and determine the best strategy or approach.
Ideally, we are in a situation where we have established a culture of philanthropy with our board -- and the board members recognize their responsibility to assist with fundraising.
In situations where we struggle with board involvement in fundraising, we may want to consider an alternative option.
We can structure outreach to the board in the following manner:
- Determine a direct benefit that an individual (or their company) will gain by participating or engaging with our organization. For example, we could discuss a specific volunteer activity and mention how this builds camaraderie, enhances productivity, and enables companies to show that they care about community involvement and the well-being of their employees.
- Be specific with our request to board members. It is not about dollars or funding; rather we are interested in engaging with these individuals in a way in which they will gain value. Let’s describe the activity or benefit to be gained, mention that we are seeking contacts in a specific industry, share the names of a few companies, and let board members know of our interest in connecting with senior executives or employees at these companies.
- At future board meetings, provide feedback on the individuals/organizations contacted, share what transpired, and give credit to the board member that provided the referral. If the contact had little influence within the company and no progress was made, we still want to acknowledge and thank the board member for their assistance.
If we use this approach on a regular basis, board members will understand that we are seeking to offer value. If we are reaching out to board member contacts in this manner, this will lead to a greater likelihood for establishing a relationship with the long-term goal of generating support. When these individuals see value in the organization, feel positive about providing support, this often represents a positive step in establishing a fundraising culture.
LEWIS FLAX has assisted many nonprofit organizations with their fundraising efforts. His firm, Flax Associates (www.flaxassociates.com), has worked with a wide variety of nonprofits on increasing revenue through corporate outreach and pro-active board engagement. Previously, he established the DC presence for IEG (a sponsorship consulting firm) and prior to that was directly responsible for leading nonprofit fundraising efforts.