The Advice Booth: The Board's Role in Raising Donors
My board doesn’t want to fundraise, and the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of my head of school, development director and development chair. How can I work with my board so fundraising becomes more of a team effort?
When board members say they don’t want to fundraise, they’re usually referring to the actual “ask.” It’s safe to say that a majority of people do not like to ask for money. They may feel uncomfortable about asking others for money, upset about anticipated rejection, or worried about annoying friends and colleagues.
If we want our board members to be active and engaged fundraisers, we need to approach fundraising from a new perspective. Fundraising is not asking strangers or begging friends for donations. In fact, fundraising is not about raising money at all! Rather, the crucial role fundraising plays in your school is to raise donors. Raising money year after year is the result of developing a base of loyal support, people committed to your school’s mission and vision and eager to support the crucial work you do.
Imagine you’ve convinced the board to see fundraising as raising donors. Excellent. Many board members may still tell you they don’t want to actually ask for money. I hear that. Not every board member has to make the ask. Nevertheless, every board member has crucial roles to play in the process of raising donors for your school.
At this point, reach out to board members separately and help them determine how best to participate in your fundraising program based on their strengths and interests. Avoid one-size-fits-all solutions—offer a menu for involvement. Your board members will be more motivated when you take the time at the outset to design an engagement plan that suits them.
There are many approaches and roles you can share with your board. Do they have a robust network of friends and colleagues? They can serve as door openers. They’re simply connecting the people and organizations with whom they have previous relationships to your school. They can provide names of friends or colleagues for a tour, introduce your head of school to a personal contact at a foundation, or host a house party or social at their home where the head or other staff can speak about the school’s work and impact.
The next level in raising donors lies in holding conversations and facilitating deeper engagement. Board members can serve as greeters or hosts of school tours, take part in events where they talk with guests about your school, pay for a guest to attend an event (golf tournament or gala), or invite people to a Torah study with the head of school.
Board members can convey the school’s value to others. At an event, they can give a personal testimony about why they support your school and the impact your school has had on their family or community. They can put that testimony in writing, providing support for your head of school or other team member while making a solicitation. Board members can attend cultivation meetings with your head of school, development director or other board members.
There are other methods of solicitation that your board members can explore. They can ask their company to participate in a special project or volunteer experience with your school, or to offer to make a donation match. They can approach places where they do business and ask for a contribution or in-kind donations.
One of the most important and meaningful roles every board member should play, by far, is that of a thanker. Every donation made to your school, whether $18 or $18 million, deserves thanks and appreciation. Board members can sign thank-you cards, send handwritten thank-you notes on personal stationery, or pick up the phone and thank someone for supporting your school. A little bit of gratitude goes a very long way.
The most important message to convey to your board members is that they play a crucial role in your school’s development program. They can be as close to or as far from the actual solicitation as they want while still having a big impact on your school. Invest in finding the right fit for each of your board members in this work, and you’ll see a shift in their perception of fundraising.
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