Organizing for Fundraising Success

In this post, I share insights from a board member who has served on smaller, community based organizations. She has several stories. In one volunteer-led organization, she wishes that someone had documented processes to make fundraising easier. She describes two situations where board members did not follow through on their commitments. And finally, she provides an example of a board that paired new board members with experienced board members to do fundraising.

This is the fifth in my series of fundraising. In the first of the series, I shared a story about a successful capital campaign where a board member learned about the different ways to encourage a stretch gift. In the second, a board member describes how they tied the organization’s values to its fund development plan. The third post talked about the roles of the fund development chair and the need for staff support. My last post outlined how you can have your board members thank donors.

Set Expectations: Fundraising Is Part of the Job

As told by a Board Member somewhere in the US

I am younger than a lot of board members. Most of the boards I have been on are for community organizations. My experience with fundraising has been varied. I think it is important to make sure people understand what they are getting into when they are joining a board. The nonprofits also need to understand what stage they are in. They need to ask, “Who are our board members and what can they contribute?”

I have been on boards where it is the first board for some people. They are learning the expectations of being a board member and need to understand that fundraising is one of those expectations. I think especially for new board members and for boards that are more like a junior board, where the ask is lower, it’s important to set expectations. Even getting people to buy tickets to a fundraising event is a big thing. You also have to make clear that there are different ways that board members can raise money. They can give money themselves. They can raise cash from individuals. They can get their companies to sponsor. They can get people to go to the annual fundraising event. They can get creative too – talk to the board chair and the ED. Tell them, “Hey, I can’t raise in this way, but I can in that way.” I sometimes think that people don’t understand all the different ways that they can support an organization. 

Make it Easier: Document Processes

I remember when I was first raising money. I was on the board of a small all-volunteer-led and run nonprofit. It had no staff. We had a $500 fundraising requirement. For some board members, that was a stretch. I think my first year, I just sold tickets to the event. I sold two tables and that was a lot more than others. The organization did not give us support. Because it was all-volunteer, it had lost its institutional knowledge. So, I went and talked to previous board members and asked what worked for them. It definitely would have been good to have had people document the processes so other board members could learn from them. This can be hard for all-volunteer nonprofits which are hand to mouth. But typically there is someone who likes to do documentation work. It would have been great if we could have had that.

Get a Clear Commitment: Keep Your Word

For another board, we were getting ready for the gala. One board member had just opened up a photo booth business. They said they would donate those services and that would be a way to make money for the organization. Then he came back and tried to charge us. And it was a high cost – thousands of dollars. I had to talk to him about being a board member and about expectations — if you can’t donate something then at least you should not try to profit off the board. It is a huge conflict of interest. I was not prepared for that.  

In another case, one board member said that she would give and raise the paddle for $5000 at the event which was a big amount for us. There was some falling out and she did not follow through with the gift.  I think that getting a clear commitment about a gift is important. When will the donor make the gift? Does she have any expectation around the gift? Is it tied to something? Because if you have a personal beef with someone on the board, that should not be a reason to not give that money. In this case, in that board member’s mind, it was tied to something. Whereas for the organization, it was not.

Partner New Board Members with Experienced Members

One good example is another board. A bigger board. They did some things early on that were really good. For example, we talked about fundraising. We practiced story telling. It was a good bonding opportunity because you were pushed to articulate why you believed in this organization and to share with others. It was a really good exercise. And then they paired people. I went with an experienced board member and we went to talk to donors. They did not just throw me to the wolves. It was great – we went out in pairs. It made it less intimidating. It made it a learning opportunity. Plus I got to know the other board member better.

Lessons Learned:

Well-Defined Expectations: Board members need to know before they join a board what the expectations are – especially around fundraising.

Document Processes: Specifically in an all-volunteer organization where it is easy to lose institutional knowledge, it is important to document how things should be done.

Be Clear About Commitments: Board members should not profit off the board. That’s a conflict of interest. And when a board member makes a pledge, they need to be clear what, if anything, it is tied to. A board member cannot just back out of a gift because of some personal issue. 

Practice and Partner: Having board members practice their stories is really powerful and useful. And pairing a new board member with an experienced one can make everything less intimidating.

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  1. […] post is the sixth in my series about nonprofit fundraising. In my last post, in contrast to this one, a board member shares several examples about fundraising for small and […]

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