You’re looking for a new board member. What’s the first thing that will come into their mind when they think about your organisation’s fundraising? Someone is going to ask them for money, perhaps? Or ask them to share your “contacts”?
Asking a new board member to focus on his or her capacity to give or ask for money as a first step in the relationship is a sure way to scare them off and they may never come back! It’s like asking for a marriage proposal on the first date!
So here are a few things that an organisation should consider when selecting effective board members or educating an existing board:
IS THE EXPECTATION FOR BOARD MEMBER DONATIONS MADE EXPLICIT AT THE OUTSET?
This question is often left hanging with Australian not for profit board members– we’re a bit too scared to bring this subject up. In fact, in most cases, board members already know they are expected to donate – they may even have been invited onto the board because they have the capacity to give and have a good network. However, if you rely on this assumption, board member donations are far less likely. It’s often not made explicit in the conversation about joining the board nor is it included in the board induction process. Let’s make this conversation explicit.
INDUCTING NEW BOARD MEMBERS
When a new person joins a board, it is helpful to have an induction pack that introduces the organisation to the board member. Having a section on fundraising, its history, the capacity, and the vision will be incredibly useful to a new board member and sets the agenda. It is unusual to have a good induction process in non-profit organisations, and even more unusual to include anything on board member fundraising.
PRIORITISE GIVING WITH BOARD COMMITMENTS
This may seem counter-intuitive, but some board members I have spoken to are on the boards of organisations that they would not choose to support financially. I find this surprising. Why would you want to be part of the governance of an organisation that you would not support with a donation? This is a good conversation to have. Do the values and vision of the organisation fit with the vision and values of the new board director? If so, they are more likely to give and encourage others to give.
This may seem counter-intuitive, but some board members I have spoken to are on the boards of organisations that they would not choose to support financially. I find this surprising. Why would you want to be part of the governance of an organisation that you would not support with a donation?
TIME, TALENT, AND TREASURE
Board directors give their time, and plenty of it! Why should they also make a financial donation? A few reasons: being on a not for profit board that relies on donations means that its board members will be asked to donate time, talent, AND treasure. This does not mean that everyone must give $1 million. What it does mean is that everyone gives at the level best for each individual. All board members should have ‘skin in the game’. It cannot be underestimated how powerful it is to be able to share with a potential donor that ‘everyone on the board gives’. Additionally, the board member will feel the personal impact of having contributed financially.
IS FUNDRAISING A STANDING BOARD AGENDA ITEM?
Fundraising should be a regular item for discussion at board level – not just when there’s a sudden funding emergency or income deficit. Income from fundraising is not a tap that can be turned on when you need it. It takes planning and time to build donor relationships and create regular income streams. Are you building the capacity of your fundraising teams? Are there gaps in your resources that should be addressed so that you are not caught out when times get tough? These are just some of the questions a board should consider on a regular basis.
DOES EVERYONE UNDERSTAND WHY BOARD MEMBER DONATIONS, AND DONATIONS IN GENERAL, ARE NECESSARY?
Do board members know why anyone should give to the organisation? Have they seen a written document – a fundraising plan? An official case for support document that outlines all the key projects and programs that need fundraising to help bring them to life? It is not enough that you and other board members ‘sort of know’ what the revenue aims of the organisation are. All board members should have a common view – and a series of policies – which support how the organisation will fundraise, and for what. This can take some work to sort out, but it is well worth it.
This visible strategy makes the job of the CEO and the fundraisers much easier because it creates clarity when it’s really needed. Imagine for instance that you have no policy on the types of businesses from which you will accept sponsorship funds: you really don’t want to be having this board discussion when staff are in the middle of negotiations. Sort it out early, and you will smooth the way to better outcomes.
If you take on these recommendations, you will encourage a more engaged board that will actively support your organisational vision and fundraising strategy, and help you bring board members on the journey with you.