Is your board pulling its weight in terms of fundraising? An active, engaged board can be a huge difference-maker for a nonprofit. We choose board members, after all, for their skills, connections, and potential to boost fundraising revenue — and they usually will, as long as we make an effort to encourage them to put those skills and connections to work.
Here are a few tips to help you do that:
Boost your board's fundraising capacity. You selected your board members for their knowledge, acumen, and abilities, but you still need to familiarize them with your brand, help them engage with your team, and make sure they're aware of your organizational needs and fundraising plans. The best way to do that is by boosting their engagement with staff and distributing tasks based on their specific interests and abilities.
Get and stay connected. If you're only seeing your board members during board meetings, you are missing out on much of what they have to offer. Be sure to invite board members to any community events you hold or workshops you host. An invitation to tour your facility or join you for an on-site visit where they can meet your volunteers and clients also is a good idea. Not only will it help them feel more connected to the organization, it will give them opportunities to network in the community as well as material for stories they can share in support of the organization.
While not every member of your board will be willing or able to take advantage of every invitation, many will, and doing so will help strengthen their rapport with each other and your work. Updating them on a regular basis about your work, your successes, and your ongoing funding needs also will help them feel like they are connected and an integral part of the overall effort.
Not everyone wants to ask for funds. You're likely to discover that some board members are far better at asking for donations or gifts on your behalf than others. Not everyone on your board has the same skill set (that's a good thing), and board members who are reluctant to solicit others for donations or gifts (whatever their reason) should be able to contribute in other ways. Remember the classic "Cycle of Fundraising." Being able to identify and cultivate potential patrons and supporters, thank current donors, and involve all your donors more deeply in your work are all key to successful board fundraising.
Stewardship improves your bottom line. If you're already bringing in plenty of funds but don't seem able to effectively support all the initiatives you've launched or dream about, the problem might lie in your inability to retain donors over time. One or more board members who focus on stewardship and helping donors feel connected to your organizational outcomes can go a long way to ensuring your organization’s sustainability without you needing to raise additional dollars from new donors in a neverending cycle. Both sides of the equation — effective fundraising and donor stewardship — ultimately drive your organization's ability to fulfill its mission.
Stock your board with experts. In the twenty-first century, you need to embrace and model diversity by putting people on the board of different ages, from different backgrounds (professional and personal), and with different expertise. I can't overstate how important this is to board fundraising, as it will give your organization more skills, connections, and perspectives to leverage and draw on.Chances are pretty good that the three lawyers you were considering for the board all share the same connections, while the advertising pro probably has a completely different group of colleagues and acquaintances to draw on when it comes to fundraising and networking.
Make it easy. If you know you're going to need your board's help on a specific campaign or for a specific event, you should let them know well in advance. If asking for board assistance is left to the last minute, your board members are unlikely to have enough time to help. (They're busy people, which is why they're on your board.) If your "ask" is tied to a specific need, project, or time of year, write up the main talking points for board members to refer to when they are talking with potential donors or supporters. You can also pre-draft an email that they can personalize to their own liking but that includes everything about your organization you'd like them to share with their networks. Lastly, images of the people and community you serve, figures and statistics that underscore your good work, and other talking points will make it easier for your board members to articulate exactly what its your organization does and why it's so important.
Your board plays — or should play — a critical role in your organization’s fundraising success. If it doesn't, get them engaged and actively working for you now. You’ll see a difference in your organization's capacity to serve its target population almost immediately. Good luck!
Jeb Banner is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a nonprofit board management software provider, as well as two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree. He also serves as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct Indy.