In my last post, I shared a story about a successful capital campaign where volunteer board members learned the many options for making a stretch gift. In this post, I also share a success story, where a board felt more comfortable about fundraising when the organization’s values were linked to the fund development plan.
Fundraising Does Not Have to Undermine Your Values
By a Volunteer Board Member Somewhere in the US
I have been on many boards and done a lot of fundraising both as a volunteer and as a professional.
I was on the board of an organization that focused on a vulnerable, low-income population. One thing I admired about this organization was that in addition to having vision and mission statements, we had a strong value statement with clear values about telling the truth, taking risks, and treating everyone with respect. Another value was about looking for new and creative ways to address problems. The last were about community and integrity.
We were creating a fundraising plan. Many board members did not want to talk about money or think about money or talk to rich people. There was a lot of angst around that kind of stuff. I get it. It can be hard for organizations that work with people in poverty to have to appeal to rich people to support them. For some people, it feels like selling out.
Ask What It Means to Put Your Values into your FD Plan
So, as we worked on the fund development plan, we looked at our values. We asked a question: what would it mean to put the values of the organization into the fundraising plan? For example, what would it mean to tell the truth when we approach people about fundraising? Could we take risks by going to funders or communities we had not approached before? Does treating everyone with respect change how we thank people?
We held a retreat and divided everyone into different small groups. Each group took one value and discussed how it would show up in how we fund raise. Fundraising became a way that we could live out the values that we all agreed on as opposed to something that went against our values. Because there was this feeling that when you have to kiss up to rich people, it goes against our values.
Now, whenever I am on a board, I suggest we go through this exercise: “Let’s look at our values. How do we make our values show up in our fundraising?” It is different for different organizations. For example, take equity as a value. In fundraising, you listen to people who have capacity and can make big gifts and you go out of your way to thank them personally. But if equity is a value, how you can also listen to other voices? And maybe you should take the time to thank every donor personally – even if they make only a small gift.
In another board, we had a value around community. So instead of going to the board and asking everyone to participate in the annual fund because it makes it easier to get foundation grants, we focused on our value. We asked everyone to participate because everyone is part of the community. We wanted everyone to come together as a community and participate in the ways they could. It was easier to get to 100% participation when we focused on our values. Because we valued community, we also did the fundraising in a personal way where we did individual asks – not just a blanket ask to have their gift by a certain date.
Fundraising can be scary and hard. But if you focus on values, people will see it as an expression of what we most cherish about our organization.
Every Organization Should Develop and Review a Values Statement
I have found this so powerful, that I would encourage every organization to have a conversation about values. If you don’t have a values statement, developing one can be a really cool exercise: ask how do we want to do business? The answer becomes your values statement.
If you do have a values statement, that is a good place to start a board orientation. Here are our values and here’s how we live them out as staff and as board members. And then review the values regularly – maybe take an hour at a board retreat. Do our values really fit with how we are doing business? How we fund raise? How we hire? If they don’t fit, do we need to change our values or our business practices?