Oct 15, 2007

Proof That Board Members Can Learn to Love Fundraising

Last night, at dinner with my friend Emily, she happened to mention that she was in the midst of scheduling 15 or so meetings with major donors. This isn't part of her regular, day job -- Emily serves on the board of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the meetings were part of its annual major gift campaign. Of course, my ears perked up. She looked so cheerful about her task, in a world where board members who'll so much as say the word "fundraise" are seriously lacking.

My first among a barrage of questions, were, "Did you volunteer for this? Did you know it would be part of your board duties?" Emily told me that every board member was advised -- or warned -- upfront that they'd be asked to fundraise. In fact, she'd been partially dreading it. But, she said, "I decided to suck it up, for the sake of getting involved with a great organization. And during last year's major donor campaign, I think I ended up raising the most of any board member."

This might have been the polite time to let Emily return to her tortilla soup, but by now I was in full "gotta blog this!" mode. So here, roughly paraphrased, are her top three explanations for having transformed from hesitant to happy fundraiser:

1) "We -- the solicitors for the major gift campaign -- get tons of support from the organization. They held a lovely kickoff brunch, where Kate, the E.D. spoke, and got us all revved up. And we were each given a packet of information, with talking points and answers to likely questions - which I always get plenty of. Donors want to know about recent successes, the percentage of money going to fundraising and overhead, and much more." (Emily later showed me the info packet -- a rich yet concise color-tabbed notebook with key information on the campaign's goals and participants, instructions on logistical details (like how to get reimbursed for lunch if the donor doesn't offer to pay), inspirational articles on asking for gifts, and much more.)

2) "The donor receives a letter before we have lunch, saying exactly what amount of money I'll be asking for. Most of them have given before - except my parents, who I added to my list -- so this isn't coming out of the blue. And that takes the pressure off me, since the donors know what I'm aiming at. Only a few have flat out turned us down after receiving the letter."

3) "I realize that, because I'm so excited about the work this organization does, it's easy to talk about it! I don't have to study my talking points before each lunch; I've internalized them. And the donors can't help but respond to this, and feel grateful to have found an organization that's truly making a difference in the world."

For more great tips on how to get your board members excited about their duties as fundraisers, check out my book Effective Fundrasing for Nonprofits: Real-World Strategies That Work (Nolo).