I’m getting questions from a lot of colleagues about how to set this delicate process up for success. Here’s my approach:
Soliciting board members successfully: take charge behind the scenes.
Smart work behind the scenes will make sure that soliciting board members goes smoothly and productively.
1. Show why board members need to give generously.
Make the philosophy clear.
The importance of board member participation in annual giving is rarely explained properly to members.
Instead, the issue of their giving is apologized for, snuck up on, or swept under the rug.
When the reasoning for their giving is established in an open and straightforward way by board leaders, then staff can cheerfully and enthusiastically talk about it.
After all, board members are not dummies.
Most know that their cash contributions lend vital credibility to your fundraising efforts.
They know they are supposed to give. Their heads are not in the sand.
2. Be totally clear about board member expectations.
Say what is expected, in both written and spoken form.
And be sure the board members themselves discuss it and agree on the expectations themselves.
Spell out giving expectations in the commitment letter that members sign when they join.
You must make sure that the commitment to give is written in plain English, in black and white, for everyone to see.
Do not stop there, however: You and your board leaders must also talk out loud about expectations for giving, and often.
3. Board members need to solicit other board members.
Never get in the situation of asking your board members yourself.
It’s an impossible situation. You work for the board as a whole. You report to the board via the executive director.
You may be already seen as asking for too much as it is.
It is hard for you as a staff member to have a conversation with your board members about their giving, without it lapsing into the wrong tone.
Let the board members be in charge of this! (But you run things behind the scenes.)
4. Give the subject of board donations lots of visibility.
Put the issue in front of them often and clearly enough.
Try these tips:
- report on the status of board gifts at each board meeting.
- Put pledge cards and return envelopes in every board member’s packet.
- Set a deadline for all board gifts to be completed. For example – say, “we need all board gifts to be in by March 30.”
That gives you – or your board chair – an excuse to be in touch to follow-up.
Remember that your board members are extremely busy people and need to be cheerfully reminded of their duty to give.
5. Let the board chair be the front person.
The board chair or another board members can do the talking and signing of letters.
Your role is to direct the entire effort like a quarterback behind the scenes.
- ghost write the letters
- give the board chair talking points
- be sure it’s on the agenda repeatedly
- promote the conversation
- publish frequent reports on board gifts to date
- thank the board members early and often for their generosity.
Make it happen. But hide behind a board member so it is not all coming from you!
6. Give board members lots of credit and acknowledgment.
Remember the power of positive reinforcement.
Praise behaviors you want to develop, and those behaviors will show up more often.
Remember that board members do not get much acknowledgment. (just like you!)
I like to amply give credit for all the resources that board members bring in – corporate, foundation, in-kind, public/government.
Create an environment of abundance, rather than scarcity, in your handling of board contributions.
7. Tie the board’s gifts directly to your program results.
Let the board members know what they are accomplishing through their gifts, just as we do with all donors.
I like to even focus board giving on something specific that the board members can get excited about.
When they get enthusiastic about what they are actively accomplishing through their work and their personal gifts, they will invest more and more.
Like all donors, they experience joy when they see the results of their gifts.
- “With your leadership, support and financial contributions, we were able to accomplish X .”
- “The generous gifts from board members funded this special project.
- “The board’s gifts made all the difference in serving this group of people.
These are the magic words that board members (and donors) love to hear.
DON’Ts for soliciting board members
Don’t personally solicit them.
Never, never, never put yourself in the position of soliciting board members if you are staff.
Do not forget the fundamental fundraising rule of peer-to-peer solicitation: when it comes time to solicit the board, get out of the way and have someone else do it!
You are one-down before you start, so don’t go there.
Don’t apologize, or let your board chair apologize.
Too many board chairs apologize when they bring up the subject of board giving.
They are not definitive about what is expected or encouraging about giving.
If you doubt that your board chair can have a clear and direct conversation with board member about their full financial participation, then find another board member to make this speech.
Emphasize success – not failure.
Expect the best from your board – and you’ll get the best out of your board.
Good luck with you – and your (generous) board!
BOTTOM LINE for soliciting your board:
Take charge behind the scenes, and you can set up a successful solicitation.
So what do you think of these ideas? What’s YOUR experience with your board? Let me know with a comment!