What’s the Math? 3 Questions Your Board Members Really Need to Know

  • Where does our money go?

    Help your board members understand where the $ really goes.

  • Why does it cost so much?
  • What $$ do we need to invest right now?

Sometimes board members don’t quit “get” the all-important funding plan that’s presented to them.

I’ve even watched some people’s eyes glaze over when confronted with a page of numbers.

It’s tough, because the plan contains all-important strategies that can make or break your budget.

These are strategies your board needs to buy into and support.

Often board members don’t understand where the money goes.

They don’t know why things cost so much. And most of all, they don’t understand WHY you so urgently need to make new investments to carry out your work.

Think twice.  Board members get tons of information at meetings. It’s like a brain dump on them.

It’s hard to grab on to all the data and pages of information.

Let’s experiment with a new way to present this to them – a different format that will engage them.

How to merge fundraising and finances together.

This is an unusual format for discussing your organization’s work, its finances and your fundraising.

It breaks the information into small bite-sized chunks.

And it creates an interesting – maybe even fascinating discussion – for your board members.

Even better, this discussion will bring your fundraising goals alive in a way you never thought possible. No kidding.

Try A Question and Answer Interview

Try INTERVIEWING your Executive Director in front of the board.

Or if you are the Executive Director, you can interview your top program officers and/or knowledgeable board members.

Your GOALS are to be casual, so slowly, and actually talk about these questions.

This is NOT a presentation. Not a brain dump.

Your goal is to generate a real give and take DISCUSSION so board members can chew on this content in order to actually get it.

Try a series of questions.

I follow this format with EVERY board retreat I run – and get amazing – sometimes astonishing results.

1. “OK, now what’s our annual budget?”

This is a no-brainer question, right?

The board members are sitting there listening, and they are thinking to themselves, “Do I know how much our budget is?”

And they actually WANT to hear the answer. Their brains are suddenly primed to want the answer. And you tell them.

Then ask:

“OK, how much do we have to raise every year?”

Board members are sitting there thinking, “How much DO we have to raise every year?” – And they are suddenly more interested to know the answer.

Then ask:

“How much can we more or less count on bringing in every year, and how much do we really have to BUST OUR BUTTS to raise?”

This is when board members sit up in their seats. They are usually really interested in finding out this amount.

Next question:

Let’s switch over to our programs.

“What’s our top program area and about how much does it cost?”

Try asking:

  • “Why do we even need private contributions anyway?
  • “Why does it cost so much?
  • “Where exactly does the money go?
  • “Why does it take so much staff to do this work?
  • “How many people are we helping in this program?
  • “About how much does it cost per person helped? (Or per center that you operate? Or other measure relevant to your operation.)
  • “What else does this program really need? And how much would that cost?
  • “How many people are we missing? What happens to them if we can’t help them?
  • Can you tell me a story of someone whose life was changed thru this project?
  • “What would we do if we had an additional $100k? (or $50k, or $500k or million – whatever is relevant to your budget size.)

When your board members start taking notes, you’ll know that you are providing good information to them – info that they really want to know.

Here’s what happens when you lay out this detail to board members:

They get fired up about fundraising.

Take fundraising away from “money” and make it about something real.

Because here’s what you have done: you have taken the discussion AWAY from “how much money we need to raise.”

And you have created a NEW discussion called “what do we need to do for the cause?”

You moved the fundraising talk away from “money” and put it in terms of “people.”

You can create magic with this discussion.

Here is an example:

I was working with an independent school, helping to launch the Parents Annual Fund.

I had about 30 parents in the room who had signed up to help lead the Parents Campaign. Their goal was $30,000.

So I interviewed the Headmaster, the Development Director and the Board Chair.

We got up in front of the board members and sat down like we were on a TV interview show.

I asked the headmaster:

“Why do we need private contributions anyway?”

Well it turned out that tuition only covered part of the budget. (The parents started taking notes.)

Then I asked, “Well where does this extra $30k from the Parents Fund go?”

Turns out that they use it to supplement teachers’ salaries. Turns out that the teachers don’t make as much as public school teachers there. We pulled out specific numbers comparing public school salaries to this school’s teachers’ salaries. (Parents kept taking notes avidly.)

Then we discussed why we need scholarships at this school.

I asked “Why are scholarships important?”

We had a discussion about why diversity was so very important.

Then it turned out that the Athletic Director needed extra money to buy sports uniforms for the scholarship kids. They couldn’t afford to buy them.

The parents scribbled away. They were interested, informed, satisfied and ready to get to work.

What did they get?  They were ARMED with the exact info they needed to raise money for the Parents Fund.

Their “ask” would not be about money. It would be about the School and what the kids needed.

They didn’t have to ask for “money.” Instead they could ask for specifics. And they could say exactly what the $$ was for.

Make fundraising about the kid and not about the money!

If you are gonna be successful in fundraising, you CAN’T make it about money!

Here’s another example:

I was working with a hospital foundation in Canada that had some of the wealthiest people in town on the board.

I was interviewing the president of the hospital about where the money goes and why we even NEED private contributions.

I asked him: “What investments do you really need to make here at the hospital?”

And he said he needed a certain medical testing technology that cost a million dollars.

I asked him why he needed this million dollar technology.

He said that when a patient at the hospital needed this test, they had to ambulance the patient across town to another hospital. He said he was worried about medical outcomes for the patient who had to be transported.

You should have seen the board members.

They were staring at him in rapt attention.

Some were taking notes. They started asking questions.

It was a breakthrough discussion for this group of powerful board members.

Then at the break, guess what one board member said to him:

The board member said: “I think I know where we can get the million dollars for that technology.”

I could give you more examples:

  • About the Dallas Boys and Girls Club board members who were brought to tears in this discussion.
  • Or the Literacy Council board member who went off on a personal mission to find a $30k sponsor for a prison literacy program.

Bottom Line:

Try this format and you will create something new.

You’ll engage your board members in both your finances AND your fundraising. You’ll create a fascinating discussion.

You’ll bring alive what you usually present in boring reports and presentations.

And you’ll fire up your board members for fundraising!