Sunday, November 2, 2014

Board Members as Fundraisers

The responsibilities of nonprofit board members is an ongoing topic both here at Geoffrey Platt Consulting  and wherever else there is discussion about the charitable sector. A recent survey conducted by Board Source,  the worthy organization devoted to nonprofits' governance, contains some interesting findings, especially about board members and fundraising.

The same survey has been conducted approximately every two years since 1994. This year 850 CEOs and 246 board  chairs responded. The good news is that, whereas in 1994 only 60% of board members contributed to their organizations, that percentage grew  to 80% in 2013. Yet, the all-important standard of every board member contributing funds to the organization fell short at a reported 60%. Another interesting finding comes from  the trustees surveyed: 43% said they were not comfortable asking others - such as friends, family and colleagues - for money.

Why the discomfort? One reason may be the age-old fear of rejection. Another, and perhaps more subtle anxiety, is that the solicitee  may in turn, ask them for a donation.  This self-reinforcing cycle is familiar to those in the  fundraising  field. It is sometimes called "mutual backscratching," where favors are exchanged. This activity is usually undertaken by peers. A major capital campaign in which I was involved some years ago had many thousands of dollars raised in this fashion. One board member would say: " I'll ask X - I was very generous to his hospital's campaign last year."

But what if you have no favor to return and there is the possibility of  just being told "no"?  This is where the degree of personal passion the board member has for the organization  comes into play. This enthusiasm can de-personalize the "ask." If the person is just not interested in the purpose of the organization. it is the  organization and not the asker that is being rejected. There may also be personal economic factors that have a bearing on a "turn-down."

Let's not discount who is doing the asking. If it's a friend or even a family member, there should be some built-in good will towards the person seeking a donation. The personal approach is always the best.  I  respond better when there is a note included from someone I know in, say, an invitation to an event. Hand-written notes, which are fast becoming a rarity, are much appreciated.

Another barrier to asking friends and family is the apprehension that you are taking advantage of a relationship. But - what are friends for?  As a board member you are fulfilling a duty. You are not forcing anyone to do anything. If your request is declined, at least you have brought to that person's attention your interest and belief in the organization. And who knows, next year they may say "yes."
Successful fundraisers will tell you that relationships really do matter.

Finally, it has to be acknowledged that some board members, especially if they are new to the board and/or nonprofits, simply don't know where to start. This is where training and education makes a difference. One of the more effective forms of fundraising education I have seen came at a mini retreat of a board on which I serve. It was a 30 minute presentation  by a fellow board member who had good experience to share. The active Q &A was an additional bonus. A peer presentation like this provides a comfort zone for the neophytes along with the possibility of on-going mentoring.

Board members must be regularly reminded that fundraising is, in one form or another,  a part of their responsibility along with strategic planning and fiduciary oversight. Finding resources to sustain the organization should not be solely left to professional staff.  If, in seeking new board members, a prospect says: "OK, as long as I don't have to ask for money," look around some more, or modify the definition of fundraising to include "softer" approaches. In any case, the potential board member should understand  he or she will have an obligation to work to secure financial resources for the nonprofit.

It would be great to see the 43% discomfort about asking for support drop at the next survey, and  a greater percentage reporting 100% participation  in giving by a board.

A nonprofit  board is too powerful an engine to be left at idle speed.