Rule 1 of a fundraising board: ask first of yourself

By January 19, 2014Donor Cultivation

doodle-1016-money-bagsLast week I was working with a board on their 2014 plan. One of their primary goals is to increase their fundraising capacity.

There were multiple opportunities for this organization to raise more money including developing a scholarship program for participants, connecting with potential corporate sponsors, grant writing and expanding special events.

What, I asked, was their goal for board giving?

They looked at me. Board giving?

This is a group of very well-meaning and sophisticated people. They aren’t chintzy. But it had not occurred to them that they as individuals, as leaders of the organization, also have a personal obligation to ensure its financial health.

These folks come from all walks of life. Some are retired and making estate planning decisions. Others are respected professionals. There are one or two parents with young children, and a nonprofit executive on a modest salary. They are not, they told me, one of the “wealthy” groups I “normally” work with.

In the course of two decades working with dozens of boards, not one has identified itself as one of “those” boards, with members of wealth and influence.

Not one.

Every board with which I have worked has been made up of people who are passionate about the cause addressed by the organization. Most also have a membership representative of a fairly broad socio-economic strata.

The bottom line is this: if your board members aren’t giving of their own resources (and this means financially as well as their professional expertise and/or time), then how can they expect anyone else to?

If you’re serving on a board, that organization should be one of your top giving priorities for the year, as well as a priority for your time. It should receive one of your largest gifts across the range of all the organizations you support. That’s what it means to be a leader.

Furthermore, all volunteers and even staff should be asked to participate with a gift to the annual fund. If you can’t ask those closest to the organization to support your cause, how in the world will you be able to ask anyone else?

Add to this the fact that giving of yourself, then asking others to join you is so much more powerful than asking others to support a cause to which you couldn’t be bothered to write a check. I don’t care if you’re a teacher, a CEO, a retiree on a fixed income. If your budget is tight, consider a monthly contribution of a modest amount. Over time you’ll have an impact without too much hardship.

When we’re identifying the best donor prospects for any organization, the top priorities are those who (a) have some proximity to the organization, or who have given before, and (b) who have some connection to someone who can make a thoughtful ask.  Who ranks highest in terms of all of these considerations?

The board.

Capacity for giving is important to consider, but it’s not the only consideration. Capacity alone does not make a dedicated supporter.

If you’re in the important position of leading an organization you care about, and interested in furthering it’s fundraising capacity, look to your own contribution first. You’ll find it’s much easier to make the same request of others.

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