Our very first newsletter: questions from nonprofit leaders, answered.
For many of us in the non-profit sector it’s easy to feel isolated. It’s important to reach out to our peers – they can inspire new ideas, give suggestions based on their experiences, and refer us to new resources. We’re often asked, for example, about boards of directors – their fundraising and their own giving. Here are some questions we’ve received and insights we’ve shared:
Q: At our last Board meeting we were in a rut. The Board members know they’re there to help raise money but so many of them aren’t feeling up to the task. They don’t want to bother their families or insult friends and colleagues by asking them outright. How can they overcome their shyness?
-Sharon, homeless services, Harlem
A: We’ve all heard the saying about the three qualities board members can bring to the table: work, wealth and wisdom. Most board members are asked to make their own donations, but that isn’t enough to keep an organization funded.
One major purpose of having a Board of Directors is to obtain funding. What many Board members forget, though, is that the money they’re asking for isn’t for their own pockets. Money is a sensitive issue, and culturally we’re often made to feel it’s impolite or dirty to talk about it; asking for money is often even more taboo. It’s important to remind them that they are not just asking for money – they’re supposed to be out there championing the cause.
When Board members tell you that they “don’t want to bother people” about money, ask them why they are reluctant. Get them to talk passionately about the issues and to articulate why your cause is vital for others. If they can communicate that passion to others and ask for support, asking for financial contributions will be less difficult.
You can help Board members with their talking points by:
If your Board is just asking for money then they won’t get very far. They have to win hearts and minds first – getting other people passionate about your cause will inspire those folks to contribute financially, more so than just asking for money.
Q: I am on the Board of Directors of a small, local organization. There aren’t many of us on the board, and I feel like I’m asked to do a lot – especially when it comes to fundraising. But I don’t know anybody! How can I fundraise if there’s no one to ask?
-George, education & technology, NY
A: You just need to approach this from a different angle. You do know a lot of people, but you just don’t know who to ask, or what to ask them for.
The real question is, “who would be interested in my cause?” Here at Perry Davis Associates we believe that potential donors are around every corner. We like to sit down with each board member and review lists of personal contacts, LinkedIn connections, potential donor foundation board members, vendor lists, and more– you’d be surprised how many people you recognize when you see all those names written out!
Once you’ve identified potential donors, it is important to understand why they might give—are they interested in the cause, do they owe you something, are they on the board of a foundation that must give away funds, or perhaps they are just generally charitable.
The adage is true time and time again—if you ask for money you get advice, and if you ask for advice, you get money. Try to set up a meeting by asking for advice. Ask questions; get to know your prospect. If in the course of your meeting you see that he is unable to donate, see who else he knows and ask if he would be willing to open doors for you. Connectors are just as important an asset if they will make introductions. The more excited you can get the prospect about the cause, the more likely he would be willing is to contribute services, connections or funding.
Q: Our organization works internationally, and our board meets as frequently as it can. But they tend not to follow through with their requests for funding. Some of them say they never get a response and stop asking. What can I do to keep them trying?
-A.R, international humanitarian aid, NJ
A: Get your board excited! Your board’s priority should always be organizational vitality, but that’s hard to keep up if it’s a bored meeting and not a Board meeting.
At the next meeting try telling a personal story about how your organization succeeded in fulfilling its mission. Reminding the board that they’re there as people and not just as mouthpieces or checkbooks is a great way to boost morale. Taking a moment to remember why you got involved in the first place can rekindle the spark of inspiration that drove you as a newcomer.
It may also be time to think about recruiting new board members. New blood will bring some vim and vigor back to the table! Remember, it’s also a Board’s job to keep recruiting new leadership. Use the great online resources in conjunction with tried-and-true rolodexes to put together a list of “dream team” board members. A diversity of ages, occupations and levels of experience will make your board more dynamic. Your board really should be populated by people who want to be there and want to be involved in your cause. If you don’t have involved board members now, you’ll find people who are excited by the cause among your newer donors, professionals with expertise that the agency needs, children of your largest donors, active program participants and community leaders.