3 fundraising roles board members can grow to love

I was speaking at a conference a couple of weeks ago when it dawned on me.

Something was…different.

It was the audience.

Usually, when you’re speaking about fundraising, you’re preaching to the converted – a crowd of development professionals like yourself who want to upgrade their skills, solve a tough fundraising problem, or are simply looking for a shoulder to cry on (sometimes literally - especially this time of year!).

And as much as I love you, this time, the room was filled with my most coveted audience of all…

Board members!

If you could have seen me, I was almost rubbing my hands together with glee – engaging boards in understanding and fulfilling their leadership role in fundraising is one of my greatest passions.

It’s also an important message I wanted to share with you – your board members do care, and are often actively searching for ways to raise more money for your great cause.

Left to their own devices, sometimes their curiosity and enthusiasm can go awry (Shiny Object Syndrome, anyone?)

But if you can channel these energies in the right direction, it can make all the difference for your organization.

Board members really do want to help – and here are three fundraising roles that, with the right support from you, board members can grow to love.

1. An attitude of gratitude

Thanking donors is a great way to start your board members off when they’re first getting their fundraising feet wet.

In fact, I’ve seen many initially reluctant board members turn into fundraising superstars once they have a few successful donor thank you calls under their belt!

There’s something about connecting with donors and sharing their heartfelt gratitude that helps confidence grow, as fears about fundraising fall away.

The key to engaging your board members in making thank you calls (or playing any role in fundraising) is to make it as easy as possible.

Put together a little thank you call kit – think about a brief sample call script, some Frequently Asked Questions addressing queries you often get from donors, and a simple call report form they can send to you with any contact info changes or requested follow up.

If you need a little inspiration, here’s a great free resource on thank you calls from Clarification to get you started.

2. The hostess with the mostest

The first place many boards go when it comes to fundraising and revenue generation is straight to the idea of starting another special event.

I’ve noticed that for many boards at the beginning of their fundraising journey, “fundraising” and “events” are simply synonymous and interchangeable concepts.

Supporting your board though training and education to help broaden their horizons beyond another costly and ineffective gala dinner can be a crucial step in effectively engaging them in fundraising.

(For example, does your board know that fundraising events can be the most expensive and time-consuming way to raise money, costing on average 50 cents to raise a dollar - and that’s usually not factoring in staff time and opportunity cost?)

But before I’ve made myself an enemy of all the event enthusiasts in the room, effective events can and should have a place in your fundraising mix.

Smaller, mission focused events where donors and potential supporters have the opportunity to connect with the cause and community they care about can have a huge impact on your fundraising efforts.

Think open houses, house party fundraisers or friend-raisers, or meaningful donor appreciation events – these are all great opportunities for board members to take a leadership role in organizing, inviting or hosting a group of donors or potential supporters.

3. Giving 100%

If your board expects people in your community to step up and support your cause with a philanthropic gift, they need to be role modelling that behaviour.

It’s as simple as that.

I believe 100% board giving is non-negotiable – if those leading your organization are not supporting your work with a donation, in addition to contributing time and expertise, they may be more comfortable in a different volunteer role.

The key is asking everyone to make a personally significant gift, and setting clear expectations on fundraising roles during the board recruitment process – including the expectation that all board members set the tone at the top by making a donation that is meaningful to them.

I’ve seen this done effectively with boards of all shapes and sizes, including community-based boards with service user members with limited incomes (interestingly enough, these are often the boards giving most generously and joyfully…).

I hope these tips will help you engage your board in embracing their role in fundraising success at your organization. Or perhaps you’re a board member yourself, leading this change from within – if so, kudos to you, and on behalf of fundraising staff everywhere – THANK YOU!

Emma Lewzey, CFRE is an award-winning fundraiser who has been helping great causes like yours build and grow successful fundraising programs since 1995. She’s the President-Elect of the world’s largest Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Chapter in Toronto, and the National Chair of AFP’s Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy. Contact Emma to book your free discovery session, and find out how you can work together to strategically focus your precious resources on the fundraising initiatives that truly work.

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