Four Steps to Take Board Members from Fear of Fundraising to Enthusiasm

If you want to get your board members fully active in fundraising, you need to approach them from a new perspective. You have to change their mind-set about fundraising and redefine it from an entirely new point of view.

Board members don’t understand how powerful the act of raising money can be-it’s an effort to make the world a better place. It is some of the most important work anyone can ever do-on the front lines causing change for the good.

But board members don’t think of it that way. They are stuck in the “tin cup” attitude-equating fundraising with begging. Instead of the highest form of human activity-helping their fellow man-they turn it into one of the lowest.

Here are four steps to take board members from fear of fundraising to understanding and to open the door for willingness. These steps give them a whole new perspective about raising money that is far more empowering and inspirational.

Step One: Deal Directly with the Dark Side of Fundraising

Fundraising can bring out nervousness, embarrassment, or anxiety. These feelings arise when the conversation is all about money. We know that many trustees equate fundraising with “asking strangers for money.”

We must deal directly with their fears. We should give them the opportunity to get over their mental blocks by having an honest, open discussion about their nervousness or anxiety about fundraising. They also need a special environment, probably a retreat, to encourage them to let go and speak freely.

Please note that I am not saying that you should talk to them-I am saying that you need to allow them to talk about how they feel.

Ask them: “How do you feel about soliciting and asking for money?” In my Easy Fundraising for Board Members retreats, I pair board members off and ask them to share with each other how they really feel about fundraising and soliciting.

I encourage them to get all their bad energy about fundraising out on the table. I encourage them to throw up if they want to. They will say they feel nervous, fear rejection, don’t like prevailing on people, and think it’s demeaning. They lay it on the table.

But I don’t let them linger in the “yuck” of asking. I counter it immediately with a discussion of how they feel when they give.

Step Two: Tell Them Fundraising Is Not about Money

It’s about changing the world.

Ask them: “How do you feel when you write a check to your favorite organization?”

Here’s what they will say: I feel proud … joyous … glad I could do it … wish I could do more … happy … giving back … part of something important … powerful.

Then remind them that these are the emotions other donors feel when they give money. When a donor makes a gift, he or she becomes a partner in a cause that is bigger than just one person’s life. That donor’s life and legacy are enhanced. To work for important purposes, to take part in solving problems of great magnitude gives deeper meaning even to daily routines. People want to be involved in something with meaning.

So instead of being embarrassed about fundraising, board members can shift their perspective and realize that donors are happy and joyful when they are giving. Here’s the disconnect: they can be stuck in fear-all focused on themselves-or they can be all about the donor and their shared experience of wanting to change the world.

Board members can stand high on the mountain making the world a better place. I tell them that they need to be fired up with their passion to change the world. They can be like Martin Luther King.

I suggest that they should be going all over town saying, “I have a dream … ,” and infecting everyone they meet with their joy, passion, and urgency to help others in need.

Board members like this point of view. You can see them shift right before your eyes. Putting fundraising on this high a plane is a new idea to them. It puts them at ease and gives them fresh inspiration and energy to take action.

They are relieved when I tell them that good fundraising is never about money. It is all about the desire to improve your community or world for the better.

Americans come from a barn-raising tradition, one of neighbors working together to solve problems, rather than relying on government to solve most of them. This tradition creates deep, fertile ground for our fundraisers today.

Step Three: Seek Friends, Not Donors

Board members are stunned when I tell them that after 22 years on the front lines of fundraising, I would rather have a friend for my organization than a donor.

What will your friends do for you? They will be interested in what you are up to, they will stick with you, they will help you out, they will spread the word, and, when the going gets tough, they will be there with you.

Donors want to be drawn into the real work of the organization, anyway. They want to be treated like real people and not wallets. What better job for board members-to make current and potential donors into true friends of the organization?

The more friends our board members can make for our cause, the stronger and more successful our work will be. The larger the number of people who have been personally introduced to the work we do, the better we fare.

It is easy to assume that the real work is the direct solicitation of funds, but “the talking up” part of the job is equally important. If a nonprofit is a bright spot on its community’s radar screen, so to speak, then that visibility will make the fundraising so much easier and more successful.

Community buzz is so important. As fundraisers, we really need our board members to be active in the community on behalf of our organization. Active can mean lots of things: talking up the organization; introducing new people to its work; bringing in friends and volunteers to help in different ways; and, yes, helping to acquire money and resources.

Friend raising is something all board members like to do and are proud to do-and it is a most valuable and needed fundraising function. If you set up a committee and call it the Friend Raising Committee, board members will probably be enthusiastic, and the effect of the group’s efforts will be powerful and lasting.

Step Four: Tell Them They Don’t Have to Solicit

Let us focus our board members on friend raising and many other jobs in the fundraising process. I say we take soliciting out of the picture and get our board members hard at work developing friendly relationships for our organization all over the community, state, region, world-wherever our mission takes us.

There are so many activities related to fundraising (outside of soliciting) in which we need their help. For those on a board who are not ready to take on solicitation, we can ask them to do everything else in the fundraising cycle: help create new friends and supporters, help thank and involve current donors.

Our fundraising cycle starts with identifying potential donors, then cultivating, engaging, and involving them. When they are ready, we ask for their support, and finally we thank, thank, and thank them again so they will join our bandwagon and be our friends for the long run.

Smart staff members can show board members all the other ways they can contribute in fundraising without “asking.” They will begin to see just how little time is spent in the “asking” phase of the cycle, compared with all the many other activities we undertake with our donors.

They need to understand that fundraising is very much more than simply soliciting. Developing a relationship with a donor, particularly for a major gift, is a lengthy process with many delicate steps.

Board members can help in the other myriad activities of the process, when we are simply making friends and building relationships, which of course leads to giving, and long-term giving, at that. Board members can host tours, throw parties for their friends, create community buzz, ask everyone they know for help, and personally thank donors.

As experienced fundraisers, we know that the more emphasis we put on cultivating, thanking, and informing donors, the easier, and more natural, the “asking” will be.

Of course we know that if board members are actually involved in helping to cultivate a donor, then they will be much more willing to help with a solicitation. There are many vital tasks that they can perform, without having to solicit. They can serve at all levels and get as close to or as far away from the actual moment of solicitation as they want-and still make a huge difference.

This is really an eye-opener for many board members. When I present these suggestions in retreats and trainings, I see amazed and interested expressions, as if an entirely new idea is dawning upon them. This is the way to take your reluctant board members and fire them up with new energy and enthusiasm for the cause-and put them to work.

  • Chad Smith

    Great information, I serve on the Board of Directors for my local YMCA and this was very helpful as we kick off our annual giving campaign, thanks for sharing!