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Ellen Bristol

About Ellen

The Nonprofit Board’s Five Primary Fundraising Roles: Part Two

This is the second part of a two-part article focused on five primary roles in fundraising  that every nonprofit board should consider.

Some boards, and some board members, are ready to take on the role of direct solicitation and cultivation of donors, while others are nowhere near ready.  There are some organizations that want their board members to raise money, and others that don’t. But all boards need to consider these five roles, and decide which is “right” for them.

In Part One we discussed three of the board’s primary roles in fundraising

1. Set fundraising targets

2. Monitor fundraising outputs and achievements

3. Offer guidance on priorities

In this part of this series I will discuss the fourth and fifth primary board roles in fundraising:

4.      Leverage connections

5.      Raise money for the organization

In Role #4: Leverage Connections

In Role #4, board members start to do the “heavy lifting” of fundraising. Many board members may be local business leaders or well-known philanthropists. Folks like this tend to have lots of contacts and connections: people whose names they can share with the agency as potential leads for cultivation. These introductions are valuable to the fundraising effort, since they turn “cold” calls into warm calls. Such leads are generally pre-qualified by the referring board member, and thus it’s easier to get them to respond. By simply sharing their contacts, board members make a significant contribution to the fundraising effort.

However, it’s not uncommon for board members to resist requests to leverage their connections, or even to become defensive when such requests are made. So it’s important for staff to be respectful and diplomatic when asking for introductions, making clear why the request is being made and how the introduction will be used. Board members themselves must appreciate that there is no real downside to introducing their personal and business connections to the organization which they govern. Such introductions are opportunities to bring attention to the agency in a positive way, and improve its standing in the community, whether the board member’s contact gives money or not. After all, the board member would probably not give any time to an organization that he/she didn’t respect and believe in, so simply extending knowledge about the institution’s good work is all that’s being asked.

Some board members may lack influential connections in the community. These board members deserve respect, and the recognition that their governance contribution and perspectives make a difference  to the organization’s mission. Staff and board members need to be sure to treat them with respect and avoid making them feel awkward or left out. They contribute to the institution through their governance efforts, and through their experience and perspectives.

If no-one on board has any such valuable connections, however, it might be time to rethink the make-up of the board and recruit others who can utilize their networks.

Role #5:

Raise money for the organization.

Role #5 is the highest level of involvement that board members can have in fundraising. There are a couple of ways to fulfill this role. One is for the board member to play “supporting actor,” accompanying a staff member on prospect visits to support and reinforce the value of the call. Another is for the board member to play the “lead” role, by establishing the relationship, cultivating the gift, and closing the deal. In either case, make sure that the organization has put together a fundraising toolkit, so that donor cultivation is not being reinvented every time.

Whether the board is ready to play supporting or leading roles, don’t let them go out into the market without “air cover.” Provide those board members – AHEAD OF TIME – with the fundraising toolkit, guidelines and rules they need to follow, and limitations they need to respect. Put your toolkit in place well in advance of fundraising activity, and avoid fundraising mishaps before they take place.

In conclusion, some boards, and some board members, are ready to take on the role of direct solicitation and cultivation of donors, while others are nowhere near ready. There are some organizations that want their board members to raise money, and others that don’t. When it comes to the board’s role in fundraising, there is no single answer – and no easy answer either. It behooves every nonprofit board to collaborate on defining that role, upholding their mutual decision and commitment, and staying focused on the desired results. But all boards need to consider these five roles, and decide which is “right” for them.

But Wait!  I cannot end a conversation about the roles of the board in fundraising without giving a quick honorable mention to the dreaded Give-Or-Get Policy. So, here goes.

There’s another function related to peer solicitation, and that’s the so-called “give or get” policy. Having such a policy in place is becoming a “best practice” in the fundraising world. “Give or get” policies mean that each board member is expected to donate a certain amount of money per year, or to convince others to donate that same amount on the board member’s behalf. For some boards, the level is modest, at only a few hundred dollars; for others, the sum is considerably larger. A major hospital recently established a $25,000 minimum donation level for its board members – and achieved 100 percent compliance.

Major donors, grant-makers and corporate sponsors are much easier to cultivate, when they know that the organization’s board also contributes.

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