Ah, our boards. What would we do without them! I was actually driven to write Fired Up Fundraising: Turn Your Board’s Passion into Action because I was desperate to find some new strategies.
I was up against a fundamental challenge in fundraising: how to help well-meaning but reluctant volunteers get up the nerve to raise money for causes they care deeply about.
We need new strategies – and a new approach!
I was looking for strategies to shift my board members to a new place of energy, passion and action.
What’s the problem with board members and fundraising?
You see, as a staff fundraiser and consultant, I had had way too many experiences with anxious fundraising volunteers who had to be coaxed every step of the way, even just to talk to their friends about their favorite cause.
Many of these trustees knew many people with major financial resources, and they had the ability to open many doors to potential donors. But I could not guide them past their nervousness, to actually take action and reach out to their connections.
They would chicken out!
I found that the closer we got to solicitation, the more my enthusiastic volunteers would melt. They would turn cold and lose their passion. Resolve would run out the door when the board members thought about picking up the phone.
I also found my own fundraising success tied directly to these nervous volunteers. How could I commit to fundraising results when our fragile volunteer fundraising team was losing steam and backing off?
All talk and no action?
Could it be that these wonderful people were “all talk and no action?” I started thinking to myself, what’s going on here? There must be a better way! They “say” they want to help raise money for their cause, but they won’t do it.
I started to look at my board members from a whole different perspective. Perhaps we had been approaching fundraising from the wrong place.
What we had been doing wrong.
We had been letting our board members think it was all about the “ask” and not about long term relationships with friends/donors/investors. So I tried breaking down their barriers by taking the emphasis away from soliciting and focusing instead on cultivation.
I found were many places I could use reluctant board members in all areas of the fundraising cycle-ways that could directly impact the bottom line. They could host tours, parties, help identify prospects, involve donors in the cause.
I learned, and then proved the adage that if board members are involved in simply thanking donors, then gifts go up!
With soliciting off the table, I saw board members shift into more active roles in the fundraising process. Incredibly, their attitudes started to shift from anxiety and fear to almost glee when discussing possible supporters.
A Place of Possibility and Potential
I approached my board committees from a new place of possibility. There had to be ways to activate the power, passion, and creativity of the board members-not deaden them!
I started working differently with my volunteers. I started bringing people together in fundraising retreats from a new angle with great results.
My vocabulary changed drastically. I talked about potential, vision, possibilities, alignment, setting “stretch goals,” and “going for it.” I smiled more with my volunteers.
Could energy be catching?
And, I discovered that energy was, in fact, contagious. I saw people smile back, instead of tensing up when we talked about fundraising.
A new kind of board retreat.
I kept refining my fundraising training seminar for board members. I worked to create an experience that was more like a two-way conversation. Something that could transform their point of view about the organization, about their roles, and about what they could do to support fundraising.
These seminars became retreats that people would always remember.
They were sessions that resulted in a permanent, transformational shift in perspective about each board member’s role on the board and as an agent of change for the organization.
They were retreats that would conclude with personal commitments for action by each person present.
A new way to talk about fundraising with your board members.
I found myself speaking around the country on how to fire up board members for fundraising. Apparently I was touching a nerve and offering some good suggestions, because people were packing my presentations.
Board members liked it!
When I presented these concepts to board members themselves, I was surprised to find them open, eager, and happy to embrace a new point of view. They responded warmly when I began by telling them they could directly aid fundraising in many ways without having to solicit.
We had lots of fun and laughs in my fundraising retreats and seminars. I thought that if people could see the humor, the bold outrageousness and especially the possibilities contained in fundraising, then much of the battle might be won.
This new approach turned out to be far, far bigger than just Fundraising 101 for board members. It really grew out of treating board members as real people with real concerns. And it is firmly based in the power of a vision to change the world.
It IS possible to have them not just willing – but also wanting -to participate in finding expanded resources for your organization.
You CAN rekindle individual passion for your nonprofit’s mission and harness that passion into shared fundraising success.
You WILL be able to create a board that is passion-driven -not fearful -about fundraising.
You CAN create board that will be on fire for the cause, working to make the world a better place. A board that, as Gandhi said, is being the change they want to see in the world.