I don’t know anyone with money.
I’m not going to be one of your high-powered fundraisers.
Bring it people. I’ve heard all the reasons why board members and others close to the organizations with which I work don’t think they’ll be much help with fundraising. I just nod and smile.
It’s a fact: board members have a responsibility to ensure the health of the organization, as well as to spread its mission, in addition to the very important job of governing. Other volunteers and donors have a vested interest in the organization, otherwise they wouldn’t be involved, would they? These people are all your first line in fundraising, and have the most potential to be stellar members of your fundraising team if given the time and opportunity to understand the process.
But when I hear such statements that would seem to preempt someone from that process, I know more needs to be done to educate our volunteers and give them the tools to be a part of our fundraising team at a level that fits their skill set and comfort level (with some emphasis on personal development).
We spend a great deal of time trying to get into the heads of our donors. What kind of message will resonate with them? Where are they coming from and how does it impact how we ask for support? What kind of recognition appeals to them? How do they want to hear from us?
At the same time, we need to remember our volunteer fundraisers, including our board members, are also our donors. They deserve the exact same consideration.
I recommend starting from here when cultivating your fundraising team. Never mind who people know (at least at first). Take the time to ask members of your team whether your case for support resonates with them. Can they share the mission of the organization in their own words? Why did they give? Why do they remain supporters? What could make it even easier for them to continue? How did they feel about how they were communicated with as a donor?
Take the time to understand members of your fundraising team as donors. Don’t flinch from candid feedback. No organization is perfect, and your supporters, having supported other organizations, will definitely have ideas on how you can do things better.
When you work with your fundraising team to improve the way you do fundraising, they gain a level of comfort with your responsiveness, and confidence that when their friends become fellow supporters, they won’t have egg on their faces for having initiated that relationship. That’s step one.
Step two is structure. When members of your team talk to others about your organization, they may very well get leads on sources of support. How will they follow up on these leads? Who will be responsible for making sure the ball isn’t dropped? Talk to your team members about what to do when someone wants to support the organization. A good duty of the fundraising committee of the board is to follow up on leads like this and report, especially for the small organization where there is no development staff.
It isn’t until after these steps are taken that we focus on deliberate outreach: identifying whom you’re going to talk to and what you’re going to say. It’s a whole lot easier to motivate your team if they’re comfortable with the story they’ve got to tell and the structure into which to plug a potential donor.
Some members of your team, once they experience the phenomenon of sharing their story and hearing “that’s interesting, how can I help?” will realize they don’t always have to focus on who has capacity. Sometimes, donors identify themselves. As your team members gain comfort and confidence in the process, they’ll learn the “ask,” when everything else is in place, isn’t as daunting as they thought.
Of course there’s a time and a place to focus on the capacity of your prospective donor pool, and, eventually, a need for people on your team who “run in those circles.” But there’s also a place for the new fundraising volunteer, and for the board member who has never been asked to do this kind of work before, and plenty of opportunities to get comfortable with the process.
Make sure your fundraising program has opportunities for everyone to develop their skills, no matter where they’re coming from. Make sure you believe as well that there is value in nurturing the burgeoning fundraiser and plan to dedicate the time and effort to helping them develop a very valuable set of skills.
In doing so, you’ll build a foundation that can support everyone of every level.
Are you going to the Idaho Nonprofit Center’s 11th Annual Statewide Nonprofit Conference, September 23 and 24? We’ll be there, with more about developing and managing a stellar fundraising team. Hope to see you!
Photo courtesy of Ken Teegardin