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Five Simple Strategies to Engage Your Board in Fundraising

Development professionals and nonprofit executives often struggle with how to really engage their board members in fundraising. Unless you started your nonprofit, you most likely “inherited” your board members. If you’re a development director you rarely, if ever, even have the opportunity to select your board members. You end up with the volunteers who are passionate about your cause but who struggle when it comes to fundraising.

Indeed, board members are expected to know all about fundraising. Unless they’ve served on multiple boards, odds are they haven’t been exposed to much fundraising. Even if they have, their expectations about their role in fundraising may differ from yours.

What can you do to help them? Here are five simple strategies to engage board members in fundraising:

Get Them Training

Get board members the training they need. If the goal is to build a board that can fundraise to help achieve annual revenue targets, then get them fundraising training.

The best way to approach the training is to build it into your board retreat. The training should focus on your organization’s goals and how the board member can support them. So, for instance, if your primary fundraising goals are to raise funds through corporate sponsorships, you should be teaching your board members how to raise funds from corporations. Fundraising trends and techniques change from year to year so you want to help keep your board members current by incorporating some training at their retreat. If you don’t feel comfortable training your board members, you can always hire a consultant to help you out.

Start with Development Planning

If you don’t have a development plan, you should. It provides the perfect opportunity for your board members to get involved.

Start with your development committee, which should be assisting you in creating the plan. What’s great about involving board members in this process is that they begin to see fundraising in a new light. It gives them the thirty-thousand-foot view along with the stuff that’s “in the weeds”—the day-to-day operations it takes to make fundraising happen.

Once the plan is in place, board members should take active roles in implementing portions of the plan. In my experience, what works best is putting board members on projects that work with their skill set, and, more importantly, that represent something they want to do for your organization. You won’t be successful if you ask them to do something they really don’t like to do. So focus in on the core activities that board members can help you with in the development plan and go from there.

Calendar Checkpoints

If you want more engagement from your board members when it comes to fundraising, you absolutely must schedule regular checkpoints throughout the year. Checkpoints are like markers in a race: you should set dates and goals to measure success (on both an individual and group level).

In my experience, it works best to schedule quarterly checkpoints. The CEO or chief development officer contacts each board member via a phone call, lunch meeting, or email. (Of course, checks can be held more regularly if needed.) The goal of the checkpoint meeting is to discuss challenges and opportunities and to assist board members in reaching their goals.

In other words, checkpoints ensure accountability. Accountability matters and it leads to results.

Connect with Board Members on a Personal Level

When you ask board members to serve and open their wallets, you’ve just started what should be a harmonious donor relationship. Board members are not ATM machines just sitting there waiting to give and get money for us on demand. They are living beings who have complex lives and to really connect with them, you absolutely must treat them as well as you treat your other top donors. That means connecting with them on a personal level. Do you send them birthday cards? Do you acknowledge when a major life shift happens? Do you even know what they do in their spare time? If you don’t, then you should.

Conduct an Annual Fundraising Self-Assessment

Many organizations conduct governance and participation assessments at their board retreats. Rarely do they conduct fundraising self-assessments beyond the standard checklist of dollars raised. A truly in-depth fundraising self-assessment has questions about board members’ attitudes, beliefs, and motivations toward fundraising.

The assessment also offers board members a way to give feedback that is both qualitative and quantitative so that you get to do a “temperature” check on your board members. Are they lukewarm when it comes to fundraising? Are they performing at the level you want to see them perform at right now?

The assessment is a perfect opportunity to work with their strengths and weaknesses to improve board engagement. The assessment also offers a way to gather great ideas, too. If you leave room for open comment you’d be surprised at what you uncover. The beauty of the assessment, too, is that if you conduct it at your annual retreat, you most likely have everyone in the room so you can use it as a team building tool and set the tone for the coming year.

Follow these tips and you’re sure to have a more engaged fundraising board.

Deanna Ackerman

About the Contributor: Deanna Ackerman

Deanna Ackerman is the founder of Advanced Development Executives a fundraising consulting firm that provides expert advice and development services to support charities in reaching their fundraising goals. Her clients have included Paralyzed Veterans of America, Desert Research Institute, United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Legal Services of Northern Virginia, Rebuilding Together, Western Nevada College Foundation, the Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (REMSA), and many others.

Deanna is a certified fundraising executive (CFRE) and has provided consulting services to hundreds of board members and staff in Nevada, Virginia, and Washington, DC. She has been a consultant for more than 15 years and has raised more than $52 million for her clients.

Deanna is an AFP Certified Master Trainer and has taught fundraising courses for UNLV and the University of Nevada-Reno. She has provided commentary to special editions of the Wall Street Journal and presented at national conferences across the country. She was honored in Distinguished Women in Nevada 2014 in recognition of her outstanding professional and community achievements in Nevada.

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