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Maureen Peters Gittelman

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It's All About the Board: 8 Tips for Using Board Volunteers in the CFR

It's every development officer's mantra to the board: give, get or get off. The giving is easy (so to speak); and we don't want them to get off the board. But how do you really engage your board members in the getting portion of the equation...that is, once the Major Gift Officers let us have any time with them. Seriously though, with 80% of all gifts coming from individuals, your Executive Director or Vice President for Development is right to focus the board's fundraising efforts on individual major gift prospects. However, don't let them leave the Corporate & Foundation Relations team out in the cold. CFR can also benefit greatly, particularly in working with new board members who may be new to fundraising. The key is to manage their time wisely and to do your research so that you capitalize on their skills, relationships and leverage.

Below are some tips on how to use your board members effectively for corporate and foundation solicitation. While my focus is mostly on corporate solicitation, I believe that many of these tips can be applied to foundation solicitation.

  • Corporate committees are great; frequent committee meetings are a waste of time. As an organizational and motivational tool, a Corporate or CFR Committee is a great idea and allows you to create camaraderie among your volunteers. Ok, perhaps a once a year kick-off meeting to get their input on goals and strategies. But remember, your board volunteers -- especially those in executive positions -- are busy people and monthly committee meetings rarely produce the effect you are looking for. Show them that you value their time; arrange one-on-one meetings with your board members to share your CFR strategies and give them the opportunity, in the privacy of their own office, to share information with you that they may not feel comfortable sharing in a room full of people.
  • Diversity is key. Without question, racial and gender diversity among your board and volunteers will benefit your organization in a multitude of ways. But you also want to look for diversity of expertise in business and industry fields. If you are putting together your first CFR committee or are looking to enhance the one you already have, an ideal mix of business professionals would include: an accountant, a lawyer, a banker, executives in manufacturing, retail or consumer products and technology, a real estate developer and a prominent spouse (really, if you've every worked on a high-profile project with a CEO's spouse you know how resourceful they can be!). Please watch for my follow-up article for more information on why these types of executives make a good corporate solicitation team.
  • Ask your top five corporate donors to serve on your CFR Committee. Chances are the CEO or another high-level executive of these companies are on your board already. In fact, one of these board members should serve as the Committee Chair. Through their leadership support of your organization they have instant credibility among other board volunteers and in the community.
  • Manage your volunteers. Again, they are busy people whose jobs come passionate as they may be about your agency and its cause, they often need to be reminded of their committee assignments. Send personalized monthly reports outlining the actions and next steps needed on their prospects. Thanks to the Blackberry, most executives are connected to their email and I have found email to be one of the best ways to get a quick response from board volunteers, especially those that travel frequently.
  • Make it easy for committee members to help you. Let's face it; the only people who truly love fundraising are those of us who pursue it as a career. Volunteers do it because it is a necessity. If your board or committee members are new to fundraising, make it as easy as possible for them to get involved. As an orientation to your committee, ask them to accompany you to meet with a prospect when you know the answer is likely to be yes. Also, be responsive. If a volunteer calls and asks you to draft a letter or send follow-up information to a prospect, drop everything and do it. If you don't consider their efforts a priority, they won't consider your organization a priority.
  • Acknowledge the committee's efforts at board meetings. Make sure that the corporate committee is represented at your agency's board meetings and included in the Development report. If a new or significant gift has come in, take the opportunity to publicly acknowledge volunteers' help in making it happen. Also, periodically send notes from the board chair to committee volunteers thanking committee members for their efforts.
  • Don't forget about foundations. Private foundations have set priorities and the program officer for your area is an invaluable resource. But remember that many of your board members and other volunteers also serve on foundation boards and can help in many of the same ways they do with corporations.
  • Finally, don't forget about your board members' secretary. She or he is doing a lot of work for you and your organization. As chief gatekeepers, they are the ones who prioritize the order in which phone messages are delivered to their bosses and how calls get returned. Always refer to them by name. Always be polite. Always thank them for their help when meetings are arranged and correspondence is sent on behalf of your agency. This is the right thing to do and it will provide enormous benefits to your fundraising efforts.

The economy is improving and the New Year -- a new budget year for most business -- is upon us. So round up your volunteers and start cultivating and soliciting corporate and foundation prospects.


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